Saturday, July 21, 2012

Baby Case

Thirty-two separate characters are listed in the program for Baby Case, and I didn't care about any of them. The show is a descendant of Chicago, Ragtime, and Assassins, but without any center. Since it tells the story of the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, you might assume that Charles and Anne Lindbergh would be the main characters, but they're not. In fact, neither even gets the big "our baby's been taken" song--the baby's nurse, a character we know nothing about, gets it. Perhaps America is supposed to be the main character, but that's a concept, not a character. Chicago, Ragtime, and Assassins are about America, but after they're about people and desire and obstacles and arcs and journeys. (It's kind of mean to compare a new show to Chicago, Ragtime, and Assassins, since they are three of the finest shows of the past 50 years, but Baby Case invites the comparisons.)

Michael Ogborn, who wrote the book, lyrics, and music, is undoubtedly talented and has much to say. None of it is new, however, at least in Baby Case, but that's okay. Everything really has already been said; the challenge is to be fresh and compelling while re-saying it. Ogborn doesn't meet that challenge.

Some of the lyrics are interesting, a couple of songs are beautiful, and Ogborn's ambition is admirable. But he is not a good book-writer; he lacks the all-important ability to efficiently bring characters to life. And the more characters you have, the more efficient you have to be. (I know and care more about the Emma Goldmans of Assassins and Ragtime--even though she is a minor character in both--than about anyone in Baby Case.)

To the extent that Ogborn is showing how society and the press make a circus out of tragedies, he almost pulls it off, and he is definitely helped by director Jeremy Dobrish and choreographer Warren Adams. There's a jazz-hands moment when the chorus is singing "Someone's Taken the Lindbergh Baby" that has a zip and point of view that might have invigorated and defined the rest of the show.

The cast is uneven. Will Reynolds is weak as Lindbergh but better as Bruno Hauptmann (odd double casting!). Anika Larsen, who can be excellent, is unimpressive here, except in the scene where she is told that her son is dead; she's simultaneously heart-breaking and technically impressive. Michael Thomas Holmes is an effective Walter Winchell, and Jason Collins does well with a variety of roles. Eugene Barry-Hill is outstanding, bringing real dimension to a neighbor who may or may not have seen Hauptmann on the Lindbergh estate.

The set and costumes by Martin Lopez are attractive, and the lighting by Zach Blane gives the exactly right hyper-focused glow to the proceedings. The sound is iffy; people's voices drop out when they stand at certain locations onstage. (There was also some sort of interference at the performance I saw; it sounded as though someone off-stage was coming through the speakers.)

The audience response seemed mixed. There was a fair amount of friends-in-the-audience hooting and hollering. Some people didn't come back for act two (including the friend I went with). At the end, some people clapped politely while some people stood.

The advance buzz on Baby Case was quite positive, and I can sorta see why. The show has energy and some humor and a certain shine. But until and unless it gains a center, the whole will remain less than the sum of its parts.

(press ticket, 2nd row on the aisle)

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