In the Baltimore boyhood and flighty flicks of John Waters, social upheaval was achieved with lots of hip-waving undulation on the dance floor. His Hairspray of 1988, set in 1962 and "Tony-fied" in 2002, saw racial barriers tumble when integration infiltrated the TV studio of an all-white teenage sock-hop. Now, an earlier era's well-cemented social structure is sentenced to the rock pile in the second Broadway musicalization of a Waters world, this one arriving April 24 at the Marriott Marquis Theatre: Cry-Baby. Waters set the film in 1954 and filmed it in 1990, delivering Johnny Depp a star-arriving title role.
Sociologically, this is a lot of Waters over the damned, but at least the writer–director kept his film characters stick-figure simple. Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker, a biker/loner bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks, and his upper-crust/white-bread love object from the right — Republican right — side, Allison Vernon-Williams, meet and meld in high school. His nickname comes from the fact that his lachrymal glands have been blocked since his parents were executed as Commie spies; she lost her parents to "a freak croquet accident." They're orphans of the storm and products of the times, and they're in love.
But the course of true love never did run smooth — and theirs coagulates, complicated by overzealous romantic rivals who barely materialized on the screen but who are now all over the stage. Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, the book writers responsible for one of Hairspray's eight Tony wins, and David Javerbaum, who dashed off some pointedly ironic lyrics for Adam Schlesinger's original rock/pop/doo-wop Cry-Baby score, have come up with subversive supporting characters who steal the show.
Consider Lenora, the manic mantrap who only has eyes, ears, nose and throat for Cry-Baby, and meet Alli Mauzey, who played her in the La Jolla Playhouse tryout, winning garlands from the San Diego critics and their Featured Actress prize. She bares her soul in an Act I showstopper called "Screw Loose" — which Waters claims for his own anthem — and it's sung in the same upper register of hysteria as Patsy Cline's "Crazy." "Lenora tries hard and has the best intentions," claims Mauzey, rushing to defend a role she relishes. "When she was growing up, she wasn't taught — er, boundaries, maybe? She doesn't realize how far she goes is really not the norm. She doesn't get 'no.' 'No,' to her, is still 'yes.' At the heart of it, she wants what we all want — to belong and be loved."
Then there's Baldwin, her male counterpoint — a buttoned-down, upright, uptight Young Republican who hopes to sweep Allison off her feet and plop her down, married, in some sunny, cookie-cutter suburbia "in an un-ethnic town." (His establishing number is actually called "Squeaky Clean," and it comes with close-harmony barbershop-quartet backup.)
Understandably, the Allison-inclined Cry-Baby pushes ballistic buttons for Baldwin, sending him into over-the-top mayhem. Christopher J. Hanke gleefully goes for broke in the part, with director Mark Brokaw acting as curb feeler. "Mark allowed me to take huge risks, to push the boundaries and go there," he says. "Then he pared me back to make sure the comedy is still grounded in truth. Something can't be funny unless it's real, anyway. Gilda Radner had a great quote: 'Comedy is truth, the moment before anticipated.' That has always resonated for me, and Mark has been great that way."
Two loves hath Hanke's character — Allison of the A-list (Elizabeth Stanley, from the last Company) and Mauzey's Lenora ("Plan B"). In Act II, he meets up with the latter at a jewelry store as he shops for a ring for his Significant Other. This bond builds into a big, down-in-one, old-fashioned number, "All in My Head," choreographed for character by Rob Ashford. "I can't say enough about Alli," Hanke insists. "We've been handed each other in this basket and told to float down the river. Thank God it's her! We bounce ideas off each other and trust each other. It feels safe, and that's the best place to start."
James Snyder, Broadway-bowing in the title role, is Mauzey's dream-on lover. Happily, they have history, she says: "We did a Cinderella project for Disney once. He was the prince, and I was a stepsister, and we became pals. I have fun with James onstage. I like to get under his skin, get his attention when he has a cue coming up. Hey! It's my job. I love watching him look at me and not look at me. I don't know if he realizes that's what I'm doing."
This is the third Broadway show for both Hanke and Mauzey, but they got these roles from Cry-Baby's very first reading almost three years ago, before Broadway beckoned.
Hanke then won the lead in Joe Brooks' In My Life, playing a musician with Tourette's syndrome (he has cleaned up his act, and his mouth, a lot to play Cry-Baby's Goody-Two-Shoes adversary), and last year he was the camera-wielding Mark in Rent. Mauzey flew in from L.A. to audition for Zanna, Don't! and went out for the Cry-Baby reading on a fluke. That turn opened the door to a Hairspray replacement (Brenda, the "good girl" who gets knocked up and off of the dance show). Of late, she has understudied Glinda in Wicked.
Now both are braced for three-years-in-the-making "overnight stardom" — and they're coming at it from secondary slots. "Sometimes, those supporting characters have the juiciest moments," contends Hanke. "I will say it's nice to be second fiddle instead of having everything resting on my shoulders. It's nice to be in a show where I can relax a little and breathe and stand on the side and still perform all this fantastic material."