It’s an invasion of the indie-pop guys on Broadway. First, Duncan Sheik wrote the music for “Spring Awakening,” and now Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger has done the same for “Cry-Baby,” which opens Thursday (April 24).
Like the John Waters-directed, Johnny Depp-starring 1990 cult movie from which it’s adapted, “Cry-Baby” is a satire on “Grease”: A good girl falls for a bad boy in 1950s Baltimore, and along the way explores the class struggle between the preppy “squares” and the blue-collar “drapes.” Waters’ “Hairspray” previously made the leap from screen to stage (to screen again), and the team behind both productions think that lightning might strike twice, if they can figure out the formula. One big risk was not using the original songs in the movie, or even the same songwriting team they used to adapt “Hairspray.”
“All the rest of the people working in it are the same people that did ’Hairspray,’ ” Schlesinger told MTV News, “but Marc Shaiman wasn’t available to do the songs, so I did them with David Javerbaum, who is the executive producer of ’The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’ and a hilarious lyricist.”
Schlesinger isn’t unfamiliar with doing scores — he also wrote the music for the movies “That Thing You Do!” and “Music and Lyrics” — but this was his first Broadway production. His first order of business was seeing “Hairspray,” “because I felt it would be insulting if I hadn’t. I’m not current on musicals,” he confessed, “so I tried to catch up.”
As for the music, it was written to fit the setting. “It’s sort of half rockabilly stuff, and pre-rock and roll,” he said, “sort of a pastiche of period kind of stuff.” One big number is a take on Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”: In “Screw Loose,” the singer is actually a bit insane (antagonist Lenora is so obsessed with Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker that she’s carved his name in her arms). “A Little Upset” becomes the show’s “Jailhouse Rock.”
“The guys who wrote the script put in placeholders for what they thought the songs should be about, but they also said, ’If you have a better idea, that’s OK,’ ” Schlesinger said. “They didn’t always have a title, but they would say, ’In this song, this action needs to happen.’ I think with musicals, it’s much more part of the script. They don’t want songs that would stop the show; they need songs that keep the plot moving.”
And some songs didn’t even require lyrics. “Baby Baby Baby Baby Baby (Baby Baby)” is one that anyone can sing along to, as the show’s heroine, Allison, finds out when she’s forced to join in. (“Some of my favorite songs aren’t deep,” Schlesinger admitted.) Lyrics or no, he said all the songs were “so much work” to write, but that’s what made it “so much fun” for him.
“I didn’t realize how huge of a job this would be when I started,” he said. “It’s just insane. But it’s really liberating when it’s a really strict assignment like this, in a weird way, because you can’t sit around and wait for your muse to strike. You have a short amount of time to do it, whereas if you’re making a record for your own band, it’s kind of like staring at a blank page. In a way, not having parameters is harder. But I like switching gears. I’m kind of a chameleon.”