"Baby Case" is a prime example of what I like to call "annunciatory theater." Reams of exposition are flung at the audience through breathless narration (here delivered by gossip columnist Walter Winchell), bald patches of dialogue in which characters unaccountably tell each other things they already know, and blasting musical numbers such as "Someone's Taken the Lindbergh Baby," which goes on forever despite the fact that we already know that before it begins. Ogborn's gruel-thin book considers simple chronology to be good dramaturgy, and he is indiscriminate in his choice of what sings. The exceedingly trivial "Lucky Locks," during which a boy sells fake samples of the baby Lindbergh's hair, and "Ladder Song," a ridiculous ditty about the kidnapper's homemade ladder, may be intended to dramatize the sensationalism of America's response to "the crime of the century," but that has long been established and they only pad an already bloated Act 2.
Ogborn has a penchant for numbing repeats of the same trite lyric and shapes virtually every anthemic song in a loud-softer-louder pattern ending with a robust high note flung to the back of the balcony. When, late in Act 2, the wife of the just-convicted Bruno Hauptmann is found by a policeman prone on a park bench in Flemington, N.J. (where the trial took place), too weak, she says, to even lift her head, I thought, "At last, an understated song." But no, Anna Hauptmann eventually stirs, rises, plants both feet, and lets it rip.
The 11 capable professionals of the cast fully commit to director Jeremy Dobrish's full-speed-ahead direction and Warren Adams' keep-it-moving choreography, so they can't be blamed for the absence of anything approaching a genuine character. The show's bevy of 10 producers has at least succeeded in delivering a slicker-than-usual festival presentation.
"Baby Case" premiered in 2001 at Philadelphia's Arden Theatre Co., winning four Barrymore awards, including one for outstanding overall production of a musical. Obviously, then, there are people who like it, so perhaps it will also find success here in NYC. As Miss Jean Brodie was fond of saying, "For those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like."
Presented by Charlie Fink, Michael Ogborn, Robert Soslow, Julianna Schauerman, Dorothy Flynn, Caroline Castagno, Glenn Gundersen, Kathy Lou Leone, Diane Santillo, and Anne Makara as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St., NYC. July 17–22. Remaining performances: Wed., July 18, 9 p.m.; Sat., July 21, 5 and 9 p.m.; Sun., July 22, 1 p.m. (212)352-3101, (866) 811-4111, or www.nymf.org. Casting by Daryl Eisenberg.