Rehearsals underway for FFHS’ ‘Cry-Baby’

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

Work and rehearsals are well underway for this year’s Fort Frances High School musical production “Cry-Baby,” with cast and crew working around COVID restrictions and fully committed to launching in early May.

Based on – but not exactly a straight adaptation of – the 1990 film starring Johnny Depp and directed by John Waters, director Cathy Bruyere said the show was chosen based on the strength of its music and its overall tone.

“I listened to Sirius Broadway while driving back and forth from town, listening to the different musicals that are out there, and this one started playing so I asked my daughter about it,” Bruyere recalled.

“She started telling me about it and it just seemed to me, given that one of the songs it starts off with is ‘The Anti-Polio Picnic,’ we should do a comedy, because we really need a comedy and if we’re ever going to do one involving vaccines, this would be the year. That’s why we centred on this show, but I also read the reviews and I knew because of my relationship with Trevor [Barker] through ‘All Together Now!’ that he’s an amazing choreographer, and once he said he would be onboard, I knew this would be the musical.”

The Tony-award nominated show centres around the characters of Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker and Allison Vernon-Williams, played in the high school show by students Chris Williams and Joelle Bruyere, respectively, two teenagers from different social strata. Cry-Baby is a rebellious “drape,” the show’s version of a 50’s-era greaser, while Allison is a straight-laced “square” who falls in love with him. While the movie the musical is based off of was never a commercial darling, it has since become something of a cult classic, and is Water’s second film to become a broadway musical after “Hairspray.” Bruyere said some students were familiar with the show as a musical before they began, but all the participating cast and crew have taken to the show with enthusiasm.

It almost sounds like a dozen other ‘will-they-won’t-they’ films set in that bygone era. However, those already familiar with the original movie would do well to keep an open mind, Bruyere said, as the music and overall tone of the show is quite different from its silver screen inspiration.

“The music is rockabilly,” Bruyere said.

“So if people enjoy Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, they’re going to enjoy this type of music, because it’s a spin-off of that. If you’ve read ‘The Outsiders’ in elementary school, or if you enjoy Grease, this show parodies that sort of genre, where you have a separation between the soc’s [socials] and the greasers.There’s a lot of hyperbole. It blows a lot of the conventions up, so there’s a lot of exaggeration in it. The movie is significantly different. The basic storyline is the same, but the movie is very dark. This is much lighter.”

That’s not to say there isn’t dark humour in the show itself. Waters is legendary for his camp sensibilities and renowned for his post-modern and surreal comedy, and those threads extend to the musical. Bruyere said she’s hopeful that those who are fans of the film will keep an open mind and appreciate what the musical is trying to do differently.

Still, this is a group of students trying to put together a show in the midst of a pandemic, and Bruyere said they’re taking all precautions to keep students safe and healthy.

“We started rehearsals at the end of January,” Bruyere said.

“We had to have our first rehearsal, which was a read-through of the first act, online. We did it through Google Meet, and it was difficult but not impossible. We have two ways of rehearsing. We have the online format of rehearsing and a schedule for that if we have to go back to online, and then we have a list of expectations for in-person rehearsals. We have to run a COVID check, right now they do an online check, and we make sure they have masks and are sanitizing their hands and all of our rehearsals right now are masked, of course.”

Bruyere said they also have a system in place for if, or when, a student must isolate, in order to ensure all participants in the musical will still be able to keep up with rehearsals.

“We set up a camera and a Chromebook, and the Chromebook moves,” Bruyere said.

“So if we are doing choreography in the gym, then we’ll bring the Chromebook to the gym so they can watch [from home], then we’ll have a camera set up in the music room, and that allows us to split the cast so that those working on vocals can do so in the music room, and those who are working on choreography can work on it in the gym or go to the stage. Those who are at home can move to those locations virtually. It’s been working so far, really well. the student attendance has been great.”

Split between the cast and the crew, Bruyere said there are about 40 student taking part in Cry-Baby, with 25 cast members and the remaining 15 handling different crew duties like lights, sound or different aspects of the stagework. The show is also being given a hand by other Fort Frances High School staff members and additional private individuals like Barker, who will each lend their expertise to make the show as successful as possible.

Fort Frances high School’s production of “Cry-Baby” is currently expected to open on Wednesday, May 11 and run through Saturday, May 14 at the Townshend Theatre. The Times will have more from the cast and crew of “Cry-Baby” in the coming months leading up to opening night.