Almost every time I encounter a really talented New Yorker, I find that he/she/it/they are Philadelphia natives. A prime example? Michael Ogborn, the composer/lyricist/playwright of Baby Case, the exciting musical drama about the 1932 tragic kidnapping of the 20-month-old firstborn son of Charles A. Lindbergh, the Lone Eagle who made the first nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic, and his wife, the author and poet Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Michael Ogborn grew up in Philly and his tuneful, melody packed, interesting, off-beat musical theater inventions usually first see the light of day or night there at the Arden Theater Company in Olde City or in the case of his Christmas Pantos for children of all ages, between Thanksgiving and mid-January at People's Light and Theater in Malvern, Penn.
I'm a former Philadelphian who's been a supporter of the Arden Theater Company since its inception. During Arden's early pre-entertainment-complex days I even endowed a chair in my husband's name for the princely sum of $250 after he and I had had a major argument about how I wasted his money. I showed him! Furthermore, I insisted he sit in his chair every time we attended an Arden show. Alas, by 2001, when Baby Case was first performed at Arden, Alvin was occupying a chair endowed by a wealthier patron because having a chair there named after anyone for any reason was way beyond his disposable or my spite income.
After seeing Baby Case at Arden, I could not forget it and neither could Alvin. Alvin, who often attends the theater to catch 40 winks, stayed totally alert and awake through the entire performance! We were both overwhelmed by Ogborn's wit, juxtaposition of historical elements, his range of you-can't-keep-your-toes-from-tapping syncopation, his you-actually-walk-out-humming-them melodies and his handling of a complex and complicated subject.
This year's New York production of Baby Case at the New York Musical Festival -- is a cut above the original. Director Jeremy Dobrish deserves an E for Exceptionallly Excellent for his revisions. His changes, cuts and shifts have resulted in a ever faster-moving, more attention-grabbing, dazzling, melody-packed quasi-opera that enraptured most of its audience last week at the Signature Theater.
Baby Case is a one-man-show. Michael Ogborn wrote the book, lyrics and music. Oy. What wouldn't I do to have such a talented son! Don't be put off by the subject. Baby Case displays compassion for the bereft parents, but its real meat is its accurate but satirical take on the media hype and tabloid journalism which transformed a family tragedy into a national obsession. And still does. Among the principals are the King of All Gossip Columnists Walter Winchell, who spoke weekly to "Mr. and Mrs. North America and All the Ships at Sea," Ginger Rogers, Newspaper Tycoon William Randolph Hearst aka Charles Foster Kane of Citizen Kane, FBI Chief John Edgar Hoover and Major General Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf, Sr. the then Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police and the father of Stormin' Norman Schwarskopf, Jr. the victorious Commander of the Gulf Wars.
The First Act of Baby Case is about the discovery of the kidnapping and the efforts to ransom the baby. The Second Act focuses on the trial and execution of Public Enemy Number One, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who is played by the same actor who plays Charles A. Lindbergh in Act 1. How's that for saving money on production costs? Baby Case suggests that Bruno was not the kidnapper and was unjustly tried and executed! Alas, we did not have CSI or DNA or overhead traffic cams then, so we'll never know if Bruno picked up his wife at the bakery where she worked and drove her right home, but inquiring minds like mine still wonder how Bruno got his hands on 14K of the Lindbergh ransom bucks.
The down side? You can't see Baby Case right now because its one week NYMF run is over but if you go here you can hear the title song or here you can hear "Dirty Dishes," the song sung by Lindbergh's lying and probably-involved-in-the-kidnapping maid.
Another upside? At www.nymf.org, you can check out the NYMF productions playing between today and June 29th when the Festival ends. Ticket prices -- $25 or less -- are a big bargain and the theaters are all easy to get to, all in the Times Square Area. And if you want to watch great talents on their way to stardom, NYMF productions are the place to go.