Happiness, Pleasure, Contentment, Serenity, Joy, Bliss, and Glee

Usually I do a Year-in-Review blog post at this time of year, looking back on the cool work we've done; or sometimes a Looking-Forward blog post, about the cool work ahead in the coming year...

But this year, I want to look back on just one thing: Cry-Baby.

We New Liners get some amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities from time to time, and this was one of them. The show was such a commercial failure in New York that no one would license it for further productions. I think the writers assumed it would never live again. And I almost got trapped by that same mindset. I remember thinking one day, What a shame that Cry-Baby sucks. That would've been such a fun show to work on.

And then it hit me -- all the shows we've produced over the years that New York thought were shitty but which blossomed under our care, to adoring audiences and rave reviews. Nobody ever thought High Fidelity could be reborn after its Broadway debacle, but we did it anyway, and now it's being produced around the country. What if Cry-Baby is actually really good?, I wondered.

It took some effort but I found one of the Cry-Baby songwriters David Javerbaum and got the script and score. A friend of mine found me a bootleg audio recording of the score. And I discovered that not only were the songs both really great and really funny, but the script was brilliant. The stage writers strayed from John Waters' original film a fair amount, but they did with the show what so few musical stage adaptations do. Instead of just trimming the screenplay and adding songs -- the usual adaptation process, but one that almost never works -- the Cry-Baby team translated the show for the musical stage, finding musical comedy equivalents for Waters' film devices. They found the moral center of the Waters' story -- Hairspray is about injustice based on race, but Cry-Baby is about injustice based on class -- and everything else radiated out from that, commenting as powerfully on these times as it does on our past. They used contrasting period music styles to delineate social class, and so the score was constructed as a battle between musical comedy and the rock musical, paralleling the literal action of the plot.

These guys wrote a serious show that's full of laughs and wacky physical comedy. But underneath it all, it's a serious story. That's what the production team in New York didn't understand. After we had decided to do the show, another friend found me a bootleg video of the Broadway production and I was astounded at how bad it was. The production team really didn't understand it, but I could see underneath the clumsy direction and over-produced sets this satiric gem that just needed some care and respect.

The writers were delighted that we wanted to produce the show and I had the great fun of meeting all four of them -- Javerbaum, his co-songwriter Adam Schlessinger, and bookwriters Tom Meehan and Mark O'Donnell -- at what was without doubt the funniest brunch I've ever had. Because we were essentially starting from scratch with the show, it was really helpful for me to talk to them before starting work. They were all so supportive through the whole process.

They also told me two things at the brunch that were very cool. First, they told me they would leave it to me how to trim their script to reduce the cast from 26 to 15 (though we ended up making almost no cuts). Second, they told me that they were gonna have the score re-orchestrated for us. It had originally been scored for a full Broadway orchestra, but none of them had wanted that, so now they could get the sound they had always wanted -- a six-piece rock band.

We got an amazing cast for the show, and as often happens at New Line, a new guy named Ryan Foizey walked in off the street and got the lead. (I love how much that happens at New Line!) Surrounding him were some of the best actors I've ever worked with, most of them our New Line regulars. And this was one of those shows that I really understood in my gut, so it was a breeze to stage it. Maybe the biggest surprise was that as we worked, we kept discovering dozens of tiny details that confirmed for us what a carefully wrought, beautifully built, and utterly original piece of writing this show is. Cry-Baby is a neo musical comedy, using the tools of old-school musical comedy but with dark, ironic, serious content, much like Little Shop of Horrors, Bat Boy, Urinetown, and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.

As weird and aggressive as this show is, none of us were sure what audiences would think of it, but we were having a blast. So we opened the show and audiences and critics alike fell in love with it. Adam Schlessinger even flew in to see it and was very happy. We got rave review after rave review, big houses, and just in the last week, lots of year-end accolades from the press. What an awesome end to the story. And the secret to our success is a simple one -- trust the material. There are a lot of people working on Broadway today who have not yet learned that lesson. But it seems to me, when you've got material this strong, it should be easy to trust it.

It was truly one of the coolest theatre experiences I've ever had. And even though our other shows this year, High Fidelity and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, were similarly awesome and critically acclaimed, Cry-Baby was something special. I was proud not just of our outstanding production but also of our service to the art form, in bringing this genuinely brilliant work of art back to life. Because we did the exact same thing the first time we produced High Fidelity in 2008, I have great confidence that Cry-Baby will now have a long, healthy life. We've already gotten emails from ten companies asking how to get production rights. And that's pretty fucking cool.

2012 was a tough year in a lot of ways. But it was also the year Cry-Baby was reborn. And I will always be grateful for that experience.

Rehearsals for Next to Normal start in less than a week. The adventure continues.

Long Live the Musical!