Miami’s only on-campus student-run theatre organization, Stage Left, will be putting on its fall musical, “Cry-Baby,” this weekend at the Wilks Theater in the Armstrong Student Center. With 21 cast members, this will be one of the largest musicals Stage Left has produced in its history, and the biggest production to go up in the Wilks Theater to date.
“Cry-Baby: The Musical” is adapted from the 1990 John Waters film of the same name. The story is set in Baltimore, where the audience meets two lovestruck teenagers, Allison and Wade, who are from different parts of town. The teenagers’ not-so-friendly gangs try to break up the duo in a fun-filled show of dancing, acrobatics, music and laughter.
“John Waters is like the king of camp,” said Alyssa Henkelman, the director of the show. “It’s just a very campy, fun show. It’s kind of like ‘Romeo and Juliet’ meets ‘High School Hellcats.’”
In addition to directing, Henkelman was the choreographer for the show, made costumes and bought and designed props for the actors. Of course, she did not act alone; junior Al Oliver participated as her assistant director throughout the process.
“Basically, Alyssa is in charge of the show and this is her show,” Oliver said. “I am here to emotionally support her and do anything that she needs help with.”
Henkelman, a senior, was given full reign by the Stage Left executive board to design the show to her artistic will. The production was given a budget, and Henkelman took it from there to decide what she wanted to see on stage.
“It’s full artistic freedom, which is scary, but also fun,” Henkelman said. “I’ve had experience dabbling in about every area of theatre. It’s crazy, but it’s really cool to get to see all of that come alive onstage.”
Last fall, Stage Left had a huge success with its production of “Heathers,” which was the inspiration behind sophomore theatre major Rian Sondag’s excitement to audition this year.
“I saw ‘Heathers’ last year and it looked super fun,” Sondag said. “The department shows are a huge time commitment, and I thought that this would be just as fun without the big commitment.”
Sondag is one of only a handful of theatre majors involved with the production. For the most part, the students involved with “Cry-Baby” and with Stage Left as an organization are non-majors who wanted to keep artistic expression a part of their collegiate careers.
“We basically exist so that students who love theatre but aren’t majoring in it have a place to participate in creating that art form,” said Oliver.
This rings true for Thomas Gillotti, a freshman mechanical engineering and fashion design double major.
“My friends asked me to audition with them, so I said I would,” he said. “I’ve always done musical theatre, all throughout high school and middle school, and wanted to do some here, too.”
With only a few days left before opening night, the directors and cast put in extra rehearsals outside of their usual 13 hours a week to add technical elements and clean up transitions before they get an audience.
Although Henkelman cut over 50 percent of the people that auditioned, there were still 21 cast members to accommodate for during the rehearsal process, which is a lot, especially compared to cast sizes Stage Left has dealt with in the past.
“The scale of the show was a big challenge,” Henkelman said. “Cast-wise this is one of the biggest shows we’ve ever done, if not the biggest, but also the amount of music and the amount of choreography. Fight choreography and blocking was a lot to get through and making sure we were working around people’s conflicts.”
The cast and production team agree that the people have been the best part of the process.
“We have bonded through movie nights, and we’ve gotten dinner together,” Sondag said. “And the director is a student too, so we’ve gotten to bond with her and the assistant director together, which is really cool.”
For Gillotti, “Cry-Baby” has been a way to connect with new people whom he now considers his closest friends.
“The cast is really close-knit,” he said. “Some of the upperclassmen really took me under their wing, which is nice when you’re a freshman who doesn’t know anything, to learn from these people who have been surviving here.”
This outside bonding has been good for the rehearsals, too. By being comfortable with each other, the cast has been able to branch out and try new things onstage, which has enhanced the performance.
“Our cast is really funny and works really well together,” Oliver said. “And for the most part they’re not really afraid to just try goofy things, which is perfect for this show.”
Aside from being entertaining, “Cry-Baby” also aims to open a dialogue on race relations with the audience.
“The really cool thing about the show is that the main character is such an outcast, and there’s a racial dynamic to it,” Sondag said.
Henkelman agrees, and thinks that the humor in the musical helps add to the discussion of what it means to be an outcast.
“There are themes in it, matters of injustice and discrimination, and we get to work with a show that handles those things in a very fun and light-hearted way,” she said.
Gillotti’s wish for the audience is simple and sweet.
“I just hope they leave feeling better and happier than when they came in,” he said.
“Cry-Baby: The Musical” performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 9-11 in Wilks Theater. Admission is free and seats are first-come, first-served.