Taylor Clemons, Kathy Van Ryzin, Tyler Aiken, & Roscoe Henning in Cry-Baby. Photo: Mind’s Eye

Cry-Baby: The Musical

Book by Mark O’Donnell & Thomas Meehan
Songs by David Javerbaum & Adam Schlesinger
Directed by Jennifer Starr

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © by 2023 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Cry-Baby may be set in the 1950s but its embrace of the seminal moments and icons of that era are curiously familiar, and the opening number “Anti-Polio Picnic” is filled with conservative patriotic language about the necessity of getting the polio vaccine. It was your duty as a citizen, a call recognized even by the gang of toughs that arrive from the other side of the tracks to get their shots. Even the “bad guys” were good citizens.

Based on one of John Waters’ lesser-known movies, in its Broadway debut in 2007, it had a brief run with mixed reviews. It has been more successful in community productions and The Mind’s Eye Theatre Company delivers it for Louisville audiences at a time when it arguably is more relevant as satire than in the original incarnation.

Tyler Aiken is spot on as the title character, a juvenile delinquent, who is not a hardened criminal, but rather a misunderstood youth, whose family was destroyed by fear-mongering, and deceit exercised by the most upstanding members of his community. His sweet nature is expressed in his singing, and his actions are genuinely romantic, with just enough hoodlum swagger. 

Jess Kayrouz Ray brings a glorious naivete and powerful, singing voice to Alison the good girl drawn to Wade’s rebellious character. We never quite believe that she has “gone bad” but that she has brought out the best side of Cry-Baby.

The supporting cast is filled with scene stealers Cynthia Powell Chaney, as Mrs. Cordelia Vernon Williams is a stern watchdog of social custom until her past history is revealed, and is given a showcase number in “I Did Something Wrong, Once.”

Three girls in Cry-Baby’s entourage Pepper, Wanda, and “Hatchet-Face”, are a vivid and colorful assortment of badass 1950s chick stereotypes. They were hilariously played by Kathy Van Ryzin, Bethany Whitney, and Mimi Housewright, respectively. Every time Taylor Kearshner is on stage as Cry Baby’s dangerously obsessive wannabe girlfriend Lenora Frigid she would absolutely be stopping the show if all of her actions were not thoroughly devoted to moving the story along at a snappy pace and with big laughs. 

On the other side of the coin, Taylor Clemons could not be more unctuous and offensive as Baldwin Blandish, who is everything the last name of the character suggests. He and his singing group, the Whiffles are so squeaky clean as to not be believed, which seems entirely the point. Extending the silly names is Roscoe Henning’s highly charismatic Dupree W. Dupree.

There is a pretty loose and rollicking band there to accompany the production, led by Music Director Paul Stiller on keys, Sue Crocker on drums, Kevin Hines on guitar, Dr. Derek Carpenter on bass, and Tom Dillard on saxophone, a crucial instrument in capturing the 50s rock sound, and their brief overture is certainly one-of-a-kind. 

Cry-Baby is a fable drawn for a bygone era, an era which must be the. Referred to when people want to Make America Great Again, but the story points out the privilege and dishonesty at the root of that manufactured and illusory greatness. With that quality was defined by class, division, and injustice. The innocence is there and the rock ‘n’ roll-based score is hugely entertaining so the fable goes down easily, but the social and political commentary is unmistakable.

Featuring Tyler Akin, Cyndi Powell Chaney, Taylor Clemons, Greg Collier, Kristen Findley, Katie Hay, Roscoe Henning, Seth Hinkle, Mimi Housewright, David Johnson, Kelly Kapp, Taylor Kearschner, Emily Melcher, Josh O’Brien, Jess Kayrouz Ray, Richard Ray, Kathy Van Ryzin, & Bethany Whitney

Cry-Baby: The Musical

March 3, 4, 10, & 11 @ 7:30 pm
March 5 & 12  @ 2:30 pm 

Mind’s Eye Theater Company
Art Sanctuary
1433 S, Shelby St.
Louisville, KY 40217

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of Artists Talk with LVA on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.