Jumping for joy as `Cry-Baby' gets four Tony nods

May 14, 2008|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,Sun Theater Critic

Cry-Baby, the exuberant song-and-dance spectacle inspired by Baltimore bad-boy John Waters, was nominated for four Tony Awards yesterday - including the most important prize, best musical.

The nominations defy tepid critical reception and lackluster box-office receipts. The show, which is based on Waters' 1990 cult film of the same title, is a Romeo and Juliet saga set in 1954 Baltimore.

"At 7:15 a.m. San Francisco time, I got the news and I was levitating from joy," Waters says. "I went up about 1 inch. Four nominations is more than we'd hoped for, and the best musical is the one that counts."

In addition to best musical, Cry-Baby was also nominated for the witty, pun-laden book (script) by Thomas Meehan and Mark O'Donnell; for its infectious original score by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger that parodies period styles from rockabilly to doo-wop; and for Rob Ashford's athletic and often hilarious choreography, some of which involves license plates.

"I'm very pleasantly surprised," says Javerbaum, executive producer of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.

"We were told repeatedly that we weren't going to get it. Now, I'm told that the only reason we got nominated is that our producers bribed the nominators," he said.

"I really do feel good, and a little bit vindicated. We are glad that we will continue to be a presence, and that we will continue to annoy people."

In another nomination with a Baltimore connection, actor Laurence Fishburne received a best actor nomination for channeling the spirit of Baltimore native Thurgood Marshall in Thurgood, the one-actor play about the life of the late Supreme Court justice.

Unlike five years ago, when Hairspray, another musical inspired by Waters, was widely perceived as the show to beat, Cry-Baby is seen as something of an underdog.

"I think people didn't understand that we're kidding," Javerbaum says.

"Broadway has a place for camp, but not for irony. We don't really wink at the audience. We are unsentimental, and we wanted to be."

The musical with the most buzz this year is In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda's saga about three days in the life of a vibrant Latino community in Upper Manhattan. In the Heights received 13 Tony nominations - the most of any show.

A strong second-place contender is Passing Strange, which received seven nominations. Written and narrated by singer-songwriter Stew, the musical follows a young bohemian's journey through sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.

The quirky candidate is Xanadu (four nominations), the roller-disco musical inspired, however remotely, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge's dreamlike poem.

Only the fourth slot - the one Cry-Baby fills - was thought to be up for grabs, and the musical's chances may have been helped by its timing. The show didn't open officially until April 25, so it seems fresh and new.

In contrast, such widely anticipated shows as Young Frankenstein and The Little Mermaid not only opened last fall but received critical drubbings.

If the prognosticators are to be believed, Cry-Baby is the front-runner for just one Tony, for Ashford's delightfully inventive dance moves. His choreography picked up Cry-Baby's sole win in the 58th annual Outer Critics Circle Awards, which were announced Monday.

It is not a good sign, however, that Cry-Baby wasn't nominated for a Tony for best director or in a single acting category.

Reviews overall have been more negative than positive, and that has been reflected in the box office. During the opening week, which consisted of four preview and four regular performances, the musical played to a respectable 84.8 percent capacity. In the next two weeks, attendance dropped off precipitously, to 54.6 percent and 65.1 percent respectively.

If box-office receipts continue to dribble in at roughly $250,000 a week, the producers might not recoup their $12.5 million investment.

"The best musical nomination was very much needed," Waters says. "It puts us back in the game. It certainly could help the box office, especially with summer coming."

The Tony winners will be announced June 15 at a televised ceremony in New York City.

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

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