Emily A. Grodzik, Kym Chambers Otto, and Laurie Flanigan Hegge
Photo by Scott Pakudaitis
Arriving at a time when radio turned up the heat on celebrity and the Great Depression gave people a desire to leave their own worries behind, the Lindbergh baby kidnapping was the media sensation of the early 1930s. Fueled by a famous subject and fanned by the efforts of the likes of Walter Winchell and William Randolph Hearst, the case went from "Crime of the Century" to "Trial of the Century."
Michael Ogborn takes works to pull apart the story's various layers in his big and bold Baby Case, which gets a terrific production at the hands of the History Theatre.
The play follows the events chronologically, taking side trips to look at the various players in the crime, case, and trial.
At the center of it all is Charles and Anne Lindbergh, the famous couple whose lives were forever altered in 1932 when their young son was kidnapped from his nursery. Months of intensive investigation followed and a ransom was even paid, until the body of their son was found not far from the home.
Attention eventually fell to Bruno Hauptmann, a German immigrant with some concrete ties to the case (part of the ransom was found in his home) and plenty of circumstantial evidence that was spun into a trip to the electric chair.
The events on their own are enough to buoy an entire show, but Ogborn goes several steps further and examines the impact the media and the overall sensation of the crime and trial had on the participants.
It's not new territory (some of the moments in act two look like excerpts from Kander and Ebb's Chicago) but the conviction the cast brings to it smoothes over any rough spots. It's led by Peter Middlecamp, who plays both Charles and Bruno with equal conviction. His solos as the characters, "Over the Sea" and "No, I Never Did" are absolute highlights.
Kendall Anne Thompson also does double duty as Anne Lindbergh and Anna Hauptmann. which gives her a chance to explore grief and loss from several different angles.
Other standouts includes Jon Andrew Hegge as the voice of the nation himself, Walter Winchell; Emily A. Grodzik as Violet Sharpe, who also became a victim of the grinding efforts of the media and police; and Gary Briggle who takes on a number of roles, including Hauptmann's defense attorney, Reilly.
There's a lot going on here, but the quick pace established by director Ron Peluso keeps it all moving from beginning to end. That's aided by Michael Hoover's striking set (built of newspaper headlines) and Jan Puffer's terrific choreography.
IF YOU GO:
Through Nov. 3
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