Days after Playbill On-Line broke a story about the upcoming Philadelphia workshop of Baby Case, a new musical focusing on the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, a Maryland producer has stepped forward with another Lindbergh show, Lindbergh Baby Kidnapped!
In February 2001, Scott Susong will produce, direct and design New York City composer-lyricist-librettist Kenneth Vega's musical, which uses the same subject matter -- the media circus surrounding the murder of aviator Charles Lindbergh's son -- being explored by another New York composer-lyricist-librettist, Michael Ogborn.
Baby Case, begun by Ogborn in 1994, gets an Actors' Equity workshop at Philly's Arden Theatre Company in March and had a previous reading in 1998 in New York City. Vega's Lindbergh Baby Kidnapped! was a finalist for the Richard Rodgers Award in 1997 and pieces of it were seen in a staged reading at Towson University in Maryland in spring 1999, under MFA candidate Susong's direction.
Tentative dates for Lindbergh Baby Kidnapped!, which will use specialized movement, projections and videography, are Feb. 16-March 4, 2001, at Baltimore Theatre Project, a 250-seat independent space known for edgy work in Baltimore. It was not immediately clear what kind of Equity affiliation the Lindbergh Baby Kidnapped! staging would have, but auditions will be in New York City and Baltimore in November 2000.
The dual projects echo the competing stagings of the musical, The Wild Party, this season in New York City. Those shows, by different authors and mounted by The Public Theater and Manhattan Theatre Club, respectively, are based on the same source material, Joseph Moncure March's Jazz-Age verse poem. A third version using period music, pieces of the original text, dance and more, was staged by The Studio Theatre in Washington DC in 1999. Susong's Curtain Call Productions will stage Lindbergh Baby Kidnapped! in association with Baltimore Theatre Project and Towson University.
"What I'm exploring right now as an artist is American mythology, the myths and legends we create," Susong told Playbill On-Line. "The Lindberghs are a real hot topic right now. It's a difficult piece: Six people playing multiple characters."
Those characters include a pack of fictional reporters trying to cover the many theories about the kidnapping. The focus is on a fictional woman reporter, Laura Miles, "a friend of Anne Morrow Lindbergh," who "identifies with Anne and worships Lindy but, through the course of the play, becomes disillusioned by a hero who is merely a man," Susong said. The same actress also plays Anne.
"They are the mirror for the rest of us," Susong said.
The directorial approach is "very physical" and "gestural" in the tradition of director Anne Bogart, Susong said.
"[Vega] interweaves songs and scenes," Susong said. "There are pieces that are sung, but they're not full numbers, then there are scenes. The book is very strong. He didn't write 'songs.' It's definitely part of that new school of music theatre. He does explore a lot of genres of music...musical theatre, vaudeville, there is a circus theme that has an old organ-grinder sound about it."
Composer Vega is a writer, composer and lyricist, who studied visual arts and film at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Vega is currently working on another original musical based on a historical figure: Isis Unveiled, about Madame Blavatsky, and a collaboration with composer Robert Elhai on a reinterpretation of the Robin Hood legend. His musical, Heartfield, was given a staged reading at Manhattan Theatre Club and most recently at Towson University. Vega's adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's "Wild Strawberries" was presented at the 1993 ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop and selected for development by the O'Neill Music Theatre Conference. Bergman denied rights for an adaptation of his film. Vega's "ballad opera," Cafe Depresso received a San Francisco Theatre Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Musical Score. He won the same award for Outstanding Script for Berlin 1932, for which he also won a San Francisco Cabaret Gold Award. Other productions for which he wrote books, music and lyrics are a Commedia dell'arte version of the Marco Polo story; In the House of Livia, a Barbary Coast bordello opera; There Was a Young Lady, based on Chekhov characters; and an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Bottle Imp, which was showcased at the Climate Theatre in San Francisco. Vega was also commissioned to compose two dance musicals for Jacques d'Amboise's National Dance Institute, one of which premiered at the San Francisco Opera House.
Susong, 31, artistic director of Curtain Call Productions, relocated to Baltimore in fall 1998 from New York City and made his Baltimore directing debut with his new version of the classic American musical, The Pajama Game, on the Towson University Mainstage. He has acted, directed and designed for the theatre throughout the United States, Mexico, Canada, and Southeast Asia. Among Susong's directing credits are a non-traditional film noir version of Antigone, Kander & Ebb's masterpiece Cabaret, Spalding Gray's Rivkala's Ring, and the original revue, Gone on Gershwin. He has also directed the large scale passion play, The Promise.
Susong's performance background includes acting professionally in more than 50 plays and musicals including, most recently, Rolf in the 1996-97 international tour of The Sound of Music, starring Marie Osmond.
Curtain Call's recent or upcoming projects include a reading of another 1997 Richard Rodgers Award finalist, Winter of the Fall, a new musical about the fall of the Ceaucescu dictatorship, by Lawrence Rush & Lee Wind at the New York City's Romanian Cultural Arts Center in December of 1999; and the ongoing development of a new musical, Deceptions: Wind of Change, set against the backdrop of 1960s Kenya by Linda Brager & Rita Pearlman.
Meanwhile, Ogborn's Baby Case is slated for a March 19-31 workshop at the Arden Theatre in Philadelphia.
Composer-lyricist-librettist Michael Ogborn, a Philly native, had a hit in the comic musical revue, Box Office of the Damned, produced by 1812 Productions at the Arden in 1999, but Baby Case is more ambitious than his revue, he told Playbill On-Line.
"This is a more epic story," Ogborn said. "It's highly theatrical The prologue is the [trans-Atlantic] flight of Lindbergh, his marriage to Anne Morrow, and the birth of their child, Charles Jr. Scene One, the baby is kidnapped."
Through shifting points of view and different storytelling styles, Baby Case "explores the nation's fascination with every detail of the case, regardless of how bizarre or unfounded, from the crime to the execution of Bruno Hauptmann," Ogborn said.
At turns satirical and ironic, the new piece "satirizes the personalities that rose and descended infamously in the media circus and court proceedings. There's definitely a tabloid quality to it."
Ogborn, who lives in New York City, added, "The story is told through the eyes of the people who were on the periphery of the event, or had something to do with it -- for example, a maid, police, witnesses."
The Equity workshop, directed by Arden artistic director Terrence J. Nolen, is funded by an NEA new work development grant. There is no cast yet.
The show had a 1998 reading in Manhattan with Jason Workman and Diane Fratantoni as the Lindberghs.
-- By Kenneth Jones