"Cry-Baby", now playing at the Firehall Arts Centre as part of the Fringe Festival, is a rousing, raucous retro romp that doesn't take itself too seriously and delivers a solid evening of fun and laughs. It's an over-the-top tale of Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker, a greaser with a heart of gold, and Allison (Katrina Teitz), the good girl who wants to be bad... and has a bad crush on him. Add in glee clubs, polio vaccination picnics, and anti-communist mania, and you have a colourful, over-the-top version of the Fifties - where the "bad boys" are really just misunderstood, and the pillars of society have some deep dark secrets.
Subtlety is not what this show aims for – it's character types more than actual characters for the most part, with a near-panto level of self-referential humour by many. The geeks actively pride themeselves on their squareness, and the upper-class matron archly admonishes her daughter, "You lather and rinse... but you don't repeat!" A judge sentences juvenile delinquents to time in the Institute for Irredeemable Punks (or some such). But once you settle into the comical, stylized tone, you're in for an enjoyable and goofy ride.
The songs are of two types - pastiches of classic 50's pop tunes, and retro-style but wholly original creations. In the first category are "Jukebox Jamboree", a "Tutti-Frutti"-like rocker performed by Dupree W Dupree (Ali Watson), a Little-Richard-esque R&B singer; "A Whole Lot Worse" which channels "Blue Suede Shoes", and "Do That Again", based on "Great Balls of Fire". They're all effective and funny.
The other songs are loopy gems. "Screw Loose" and "All in my Head" are paeans to literally crazy love. "Squeaky Clean" is a glee-club anthem that manages to narrowly - and niftily! - swerve around some dangerous double-entendres. And "Baby Baby Baby Baby Baby (Baby Baby)" mocks the supposed artlessness of rock-n-roll lyrics.
Standouts in the cast include Victor Hunter as Cry-Baby, who channels Elvis and a young Nicholas Cage. With a powerful presence, plus great vocal chops and comedy timing, all eyes are on him whenever he's on stage. Charlotte Wright makes a big impact as "Hatchet-Face" Malnorowski, a leading member of Cry-Baby's girl gang; and Kelly-Ruth Mercier is marvellous as Allison's class-conscious grandmother Cordelia. "I Did Something Wrong... Once", is a showcase for her impressive range.
As sometimes happens, opening night presented some audio / audibility problems - I strained to hear all of Allison's lyrics, for example. And in a show that's already over-the-top, I still longed for a little more gleeful Little-Richard wildness from Dupree. But overall the music was tightly performed, backed by a rock-solid rock-and-roll quartet. And Erika Babins' dynamic choreography is great, most noticeably in the explosive "Jailhouse Rock"-style number "A Little Upset".
All in all, "Cry-Baby" is a very fun Fifties frolic. Definitely recommended!