Cry-Baby's Songwriters Find Their Inner John Waters

Tony Awards   Cry-Baby's Songwriters Find Their Inner John Waters
 
Cry-Baby songwriters David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger are finding that Broadway is full of surprises – among them, four Tony nominations, including Best Musical.

Adam Schlesinger and David Javerbaum
Adam Schlesinger and David Javerbaum Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Javerbaum and Schlesinger are making their Broadway debuts with the second John Waters film to find its way to the stage, following the international hit Hairspray. Creating Cry-Baby in the shadow of such a huge success as the Tony-winning Hairspray would be a daunting task for anyone, let alone two songwriters mostly unknown to the Broadway community.

It was four years ago that Javerbaum and Schlesinger auditioned to pen the score for Cry-Baby. The song that landed them the job – "Girl Can I Kiss You with Tongue?" – remains in the Broadway production.

"John Waters read it and said, 'Hire this guy!'" Javerbaum says of their first song. "I took that as license to say, 'Okay, that's the tone he wants. We're gonna go 'John Watersy' — we're gonna go bawdy, we're gonna go a little nasty. We're gonna be different from Hairspray in that respect,'" he adds. "Adam and I have tried very hard to be true to that. Knowing that John Waters was behind that 100 percent gave me complete confidence to go in that direction. . . . I have other ways that I can write, but for this project I wanted to channel him."

Schlesinger echoes his collaborator's sentiments, offering, "We wanted the music to sound like the period, and we wanted the music to represent John Waters' sensibility. . . .We also just wanted to surprise people and be funny and put our own sense of humor into it. The way we went about it was to musically make it sound a bit familiar but lyrically catch people off-guard and do stuff that probably you wouldn't have ever heard actually being sung in that era."

It's a rarity when Broadway musicals sing about gas masks, polio infection, schizophrenia and teenage pregnancy, but for Javerbaum and Schlesinger many of the pieces fell into place, including "Screw Loose," a twisted proclamation of unrequited love performed by Cry-Baby cast member Alli Mauzey. Schlesinger recalls, "That one we kind of nailed right away, and she nailed it. It's perfect for her as an actress. That was an early sort of victory for us." Cry-Baby did not come without its challenges: "It's my first show," Schlesinger says, "so the challenge for me was learning how the whole thing works and learning how to collaborate with all these different people." Javerbaum adds, "The scene we kept working on the most was the second scene in the country club, when [Cry-Baby] sings 'Nobody Gets Me.' That's like the tenth rewrite of that spot in the show. For some reason, that was tricky.

"I feel like this Tony nomination means it's okay to publicly say you like our show, which I think before, from what I read in the chat rooms, we were persona non grata," Javerbaum observes. "But I think it's a nice validation now that we're here."

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