“A Brave New World’s in Store” - EHS Theater Takes on Cry-Baby
November 15, 2019
It is officially November, which means the temperature is dropping, the kids are eagerly awaiting Thanksgiving break, and Essex High School Theater is polishing up another fall musical. Past shows have included Urinetown, Les Miserables, and last year’s fantasy-filled production of Big Fish. This year, they’re taking Essex back to the ’50s with Cry-Baby.
Cry-Baby, based on the 1990 John Waters film, is the story of Allison Vernon-Williams and Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker and their star-crossed teenage romance, forbidden by the class war between their respective communities, the Squares and the Drapes. Allison, portrayed by EHS senior Emma Blatt, spends the show torn between the two worlds in an attempt to figure out who she truly is.
“It’s a journey of self-discovery,” Blatt said when asked about the role. “She has been trapped in this stiff, upper-class world all her life, but when she meets Cry-Baby, she gets opened up to a lot of new experiences that make her realize that who she is isn’t who she wants to be, she’s breaking the rules and trying new things in an effort to find her true self.”
Allison’s efforts to break free of Squaredom are frequently halted by her grandmother, Mrs. Vernon-Williams, played by senior Kirsten Appenzeller.
“Mrs. VW is the leader of the Squares,” Appenzeller said about the character. “She’s very prim and proper, and she has a very certain way of doing things. Throughout the show [however], you start to realize something’s not quite right with her.” For the sake of not spoiling the show, Appenzeller doesn’t disclose the reason for Mrs. VW’s occasional peculiarity. She simply says, “Everything she does is trying to combat her guilt.”
No musical is complete without a set of some sort. The set for Cry-Baby is something straight out of the world of the Squares: a large two-story structure with two identical staircases curving around the sides, as well as some other secret parts hidden in the show. The proscenium, painted in bright, child-like colors and patterns, is used for both Square and Drape scenes. So why does it look like something straight from a playground?
“The world that [Cry-Baby] is in is a Square world,” explains Andy Butterfield, EHS set designer. “I wanted to make sure that we knew we were in [Allison’s world] and that Cry-Baby is an outsider. When we see him and his gang, we have to have a feeling that he doesn’t fit somehow.”
In addition to the color theory, Butterfield also described the concept behind the structure he designed: “The show is vaudevillian, in a way, it’s a stage within a stage. It’s highlighting the theatricality of the entire piece. There’s a layer of a play within a play, and that’s how the proscenium came about.”
While becoming a character may look easy, trying to forget your post-rehearsal homework and chores takes some willpower.
Blatt said that getting into character is difficult for her. “I have to think ‘This isn’t 2019, I can’t be slumped over.’ I have to tune my body into my head. The second I put the costume on, I can envision the world better.”
For Appenzeller, becoming Mrs. VW means taking inspiration from her community. “I know a lot of elderly people like Mrs. VW; they believe there’s a very specific way of doing things. I think, ‘I’m not Kirsten anymore, I’m Mrs. Vernon-Williams. I’m a rule follower, you guys bow down.’”
Senior Ryan Poulin, the actor behind the rock-and-roll rebel Cry-Baby, connects his character to his own personality. “I try to visualize what I would do in their position, and through that, I try to think about where I connect to them. With Wade, he’s a lover. He really cares about people, and he’s very outward about his love and passion. He wants justice, and I, personally, try my best to always work towards making people feel safe and confident in what they’re doing. I feel like that comes out of a place of connecting with people on whatever level that is.”
Though the show is set in 1954, Cry-Baby still encounters issues that we see in 2019.
“We have the same problems that keep occurring because we as a society don’t know how to move forward,” Poulin said when asked about potential similarities. “With that, we’re not trying to move forward. A lot of people are comfortable if they’re not being affected, so it’s harder to change than it is to stay where we’re comfortable.”
Indeed, Cry-Baby does encounter some uncomfortable topics. The musical’s content occasionally addresses timeless issues, such as racism, sexism, and most of all, social status.
“You see this class distinction of the poor versus the rich, the ‘classy’ versus the ‘ruffians,’” Poulin elaborates. “Cry-Baby bringing that idea to light grounds all the other ideas that are presented in the show because [the audience] is centered around something that you don’t think about a lot. The other ideas become just as prevalent.”
Cry-Baby is open November 21-23 at 7 p.m. and November 24 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for general admission at the door or on www.EHSCrybaby.brownpapertickets.com. Cry-Baby is not suitable for younger audiences.
-Written by Essex High School junior Mikaela Perrin