At opening-night reception, lots of the old, familiar faces

November 20, 2007|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,sun theater critic

LA JOLLA, CALIF. -- As Ricki Lake can testify, once you join John Waters' wonderfully warped artistic family, you're part of it forever.

And so - 19 years after she starred as tubby teen Tracy Turnblad in the movie Hairspray, and 17 years after portraying the pregnant, potty-mouthed Pepper in the movie Cry-Baby - Lake was an honored guest as the world premiere of Cry-Baby's stage adaptation was held here Sunday night.

You can get a daytime talk show and become a TV staple. But then, one day, inevitably, you will find yourself hanging out with Waters in Southern California, noshing on grilled veggies and baklava, and telling secrets to an easily startled stranger.

At one point during the opening reception, Lake covered the ears of her 10-year-old son, Milo, leaned over and whispered confidentially:

"I lost my virginity when we were filming Cry-Baby, to someone in the cast. I'm not going to say who it was. I was 20 years old, and I just wanted it to be over."

That's not the kind of impersonal inanity, accompanied by an air kiss, normally uttered at opening parties for a new Broadway-bound musical.

But then, nothing about any event associated with cult-film director John Waters is even remotely ordinary. Surprises lurk around every corner, and emerge from every mouth.

Everywhere Lake turned, she ran into plenty of friends. There was Marissa Jaret Winokur, who originated the role of Tracy on Broadway, accompanied by Matthew Morrison, who played the original Link Larkin.

There was Jerry Mathers, star of Leave It to Beaver, who recently finished playing Wilbur Turnblad on Broadway.

There was Waters' date, the British costume designer Zandra Rhodes, her hair dyed a bright fuchsia, resplendent in gold lame leggings, a fox throw and a ring so gloriously, vulgarly large it covered the knuckles of three fingers.

Rhodes and Waters go way, way back. "I was a great friend of Divine's before I ever met John," she says, referring to Harris Glenn Milstead, the drag-queen star of many of Waters' early films. "And when Divi died, John told me: `Remember, you've still got friends in Baltimore.'"

Also among the crowd were two performers who, strictly speaking, aren't part of Waters' film family, though they probably should be: the actress Camryn Manheim and American Idol pop singer Katharine McPhee, who was holding hands with fiance Nick Cokas.

The opening-night reception's only concession to the 1950s, when Cry-Baby is set, was the turquoise-and-white 1957 Thunderbird convertible positioned just outside the lobby.

For his part, Waters was relieved that the fare consisted of brie, Greek salads and miniature eclairs, with nary a crab cake in sight, and that the decor was minimal, without a single pink flamingo.

"I'm glad they didn't have little hotdogs or go in for kitsch," he says. "That's so done."

And, really, there was no need for the food or surroundings to provide authentic Bawlamer color. The guests easily supplied that themselves.

Take Lake, who, having bravely told one secret, offered another:

"I've always wanted to do a musical," she says.

"I was supposed to do Cabaret a few years ago, but it fell through. When Marissa won my Tony Award for Hairspray, it was a hard thing to swallow, but I've made my peace with it."

When Winokur is told later of this conversation, she snorts.

"She's not over it, let me tell you," she says. "When she told me she was coming tonight, she said: `I wonder who's going to win my Tony Award for Cry-Baby?'"

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