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‘Cry-Baby’ Songwriter Adam Schlesinger a Total Square

Photo: Patrick McMullan

Fountains of Wayne songwriter Adam Schlesinger knows his way around a power-pop riff (see here), so it probably wasn’t much of a stretch for him to collaborate with Daily Show producer David Javerbaum on the music for Broadway’s Cry-Baby, which opened last night at the Marquis Theater. It’s based, of course, on John Waters’s camp 1990 flick about a fifties-era smackdown between Baltimore’s squeaky-clean teen squares and a bunch of delinquent greasers, or “drapes.” The stage version’s score doesn’t stray far from the four-chord sound of classic rockabilly, with songs reminiscent of some of the decade’s icons, like Elvis, Little Richard, and Patsy Cline.

The trick, said Schlesinger, was the lyrics: “When you’re writing for a show, you’re writing part of the script. You have to tell the story. I guess one similarity is that in Fountains of Wayne, we do a lot of songs that are character-driven and have little stories within them.” With Cry-Baby, he said, “our general concept was to make the music sound very familiar and period and then put lyrics on top that take you a little by surprise.” (They succeed; you have no forewarning, for example, that a “Blueberry Hill”–esque ballad is going to become drape-heartthrob Cry-Baby’s plaintive plea to good-girl Allison to kiss him “with tongue.” Which she does.) “We would always try to come up with a concept for a song and then either a title or a direction for the lyric,” said Schlesinger, “and work backward from there.”

So how did his collaboration with “D.J.” — as he calls Javerbaum — work? “A lot [of the collaborating] was [done over] e-mail or phone,” he said, “but eventually we’d get together and hammer it out.” And when they did, they’d stay up all night scarfing pizza, right? “Not so much. Not a lot of eating happened. We’d eat at some point during the day, either before or after, so that we didn’t die.” But surely they’d crack open the Blue Ribbons and tear through packs of American Spirit, right? Once again, “not so much. Maybe some water. Occasionally a Diet Coke. We’re pretty clean livin’.” Sound like a couple of squares to us. —Tim Murphy

Related: Jeremy McCarter’s review of Cry-Baby [NYM]
Still Waters [NYM]

‘Cry-Baby’ Songwriter Adam Schlesinger a Total Square