Page last updated at 07:43 GMT, Thursday, 24 April 2008 08:43 UK

Waters hopes for more musical joy

By Tom Brook
BBC News, New York

John Waters
John Waters was known as a maverick of the film industry

Cry-Baby - an adaptation of the 1990 film from director John Waters - arrives on Broadway later this week amid hopes it can repeat Hairspray's success.

Hairspray - another Waters movie adaptation - will be a hard act to follow - it opened on Broadway six years ago with modest fanfare, with little to suggest it would become an award-winning hit around the world.

The original Cry-Baby film starred Johnny Depp, but the Broadway show is made up of a cast of relatively unknown actors.

Like much of Waters' work, it is set in his home town of Baltimore in the 1950s.

It tells the story of a respectable girl from a prim middle class home who falls for a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks.

Unusual success

The girl's life hits turmoil as members of his gang spar with her squeaky clean coterie.

Hairspray, set in the early 1960s, told a story in which racial integration and acceptance of others who were different were key themes.

Waters maintains that while Hairspray dealt with race, Cry-Baby is definitely about class. The director, who was a teenager in the 1950s, came from a middle class home.

He remembers his parents being more nervous about poor blue collar white people than about African Americans.

The London stage production of Hairpsray
The stage adaptation of Hairspray has been a hit in London

"People say America doesn't have a class system, but we do," he says.

The original Cry-Baby film failed to set the box office alight - maybe an ill omen for its Broadway debut.

When speaking of the film,Waters goes into correctional mode.

"It didn't do that appallingly, probably more people have seen that movie than any one I've ever made because it was sold to every country in the world - and has played on television continuously for seventeen years.

"So I would say that probably more people have seen that movie than any movie I've ever made, actually."

Waters, who turned 62 this week, is an unusual American success story. His breakthrough came with his 1972 cult film Pink Flamingos.

It set itself apart with its shocking content, included the well-known John Waters movie character Divine eating dog faeces.

Waters became known as the Prince of Puke and King of Sleaze. But now he acknowledges that he has become mainstream.

In February alone he says seven of his movies were playing on US TV.

'Sick humour'

"Hairspray is on Broadway, the movie was the third biggest grossing musical in Hollywood history, so obviously I'm not underground any more.

"The ultimate perversity is that I'm no longer an outsider. I am an insider and proud of it," he adds.

John Waters
I'm no longer an outsider. I am an insider and proud of it
John Waters

At one time the US corporate entertainment industry wouldn't have touched a John Waters film like Pink Flamingos or Female Trouble, another cult favourite.

But Universal Pictures is one of the backers of Cry-Baby. Although not everyone would agree, Waters maintains the US entertainment industry is more willing nowadays to take on risque material.

"What used to be called sick humour in the 1950s is now mainstream humour that we export all over the world," he says.

But critics may find there is nothing that daring in the stage production of Cry-Baby, because it has been tailored so that the mainstream audiences that Broadway depends on will not be put off.

Cry-Baby opens on Broadway on Thursday evening and the reviews will follow swiftly.

But inevitably the musical is, fairly or unfairly, going to be judged against Hairspray's impressive success.

Seven awards for Hairspray show
22 Feb 08 |  Entertainment
Director champions bad taste
23 Mar 02 |  Entertainment

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