Baby Kidnapped: REVIEWS
Musical not a
The Lindbergh-baby kidnapping gives many angles to pursue
in this production. But Kenneth Allan Vega's approach is
a little quaint.
By J. Wynn Rousuck
Sun Theater Critic
Originally published February 17, 2001
Just about anything can be the subject of a musical -
presidential assassins, Siamese twins, brain tumors. So a
musical about the 1932 kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby
isn't as bizarre as it might seem.
Composer/librettist Kenneth Allan Vega's "Lindbergh
Baby Kidnapped" (receiving its world premiere at the
Theatre Project) has been stylishly and inventively
staged by director Scott Susong, whose production
incorporates film, puppetry and a trio of koken, the
onstage assistants used in Japanese theater.
Yet for a show that contains the 11th-hour lyric,
"Let's take a moment to be objective," this
musical isn't. Vega casts doubt on the kidnapper's
conviction, but the show skews the evidence.
The chamber musical concentrates primarily on the
aftermath of the kidnapping. Most specifically, Vega is
concerned with the circus atmosphere that arose after the
There's even a song called "It's a Circus." And
though this song is sung in a scene that flashes back to
Charles Lindbergh's 1927 flight across the Atlantic, Vega
seems to be suggesting that the real circus began when
the kidnapping of the aviator's 20-month-old son became a
national cause celebre. Indeed, it can even be seen as a
three-ring circus with the press in one ring, the
Lindberghs in another and the eventual trial of accused
kidnapper Bruno Richard Hauptmann in the third.
The press is clearly Vega's chief interest. The action is
set in the offices of a New York newspaper, and the
primary characters played by the six cast members are
reporters, although they take multiple roles. Some of
this multiple casting is used to interesting effect; for
example, the same actor (Dennis Scott) plays Lindbergh
But considering their prominence, the reporters are given
few distinguishing characteristics. That may be Vega's
point - that the press is an indistinguishable mob. The
chief exception is a female reporter named Laura, a
former schoolmate of the baby's mother, Anne Morrow
Lindbergh, and the only reporter who seems to have
initial qualms about invading the family's privacy. (In
another instance of interesting casting, actress Cristen
Susong plays both Laura and Anne.)
The first act ends with the discovery of the baby's body.
The second act moves rapidly from the apprehension of
Hauptmann to his trial. Along the way, director Susong
introduces a number of intriguing touches.
Among their many roles, the koken portray the elusive
kidnappers, a logical choice since Japanese theater
tradition regards these onstage figures as invisible.
Creeping along the set and peeking around corners, the
koken also lend a spooky aura to the song, "Someone
is Watching," which begins as a lullaby sung to the
baby by the Lindbergh's Scottish housekeeper and evolves
into a nightmare-like number.
Some songs are decidedly peculiar, particularly
back-to-back numbers in which the first ransom note and
the baby's diet are set to music. Then again, there were
no shortage of peculiarities about the case itself, from
Al Capone's offer of assistance to the involvement of a
New York teacher, whose letter in the Bronx Home News
prompted a response from the kidnapper.
Incorporating everything from a tango to an Andrews
Sisters-style close-harmony interlude, the musical
effectively plays up the case's oddities. But once
Hauptmann is arrested, he - and especially his wife, Anna
(Lauran Taylor), who sings a duet with Anne Lindbergh -
become sympathetic figures.
Although the defense's case at times bordered on the
ludicrous, including a slew of dubious witnesses, in
Vega's version it's the prosecution whose case seems most
far-fetched. Indeed, the musical tips the scales so far
in the defendant's favor that, in the show's most
implausible moment, at one point the reporters in the
newsroom hold up signs reading "innocent."
Then in the end, an array of headlines from subsequent
major news events are projected on the set - from
Hiroshima to O.J. Simpson - and the press presumably
moves on to the next story with equal bloodthirsty zeal.
The news media is a large and easy target, and as the
projected headlines suggest, just about any big story
could serve as the backdrop for an indictment. Vega is on
more challenging ground when he presents the absurdities
of this specific case, something his circus motif begins
to do, but doesn't sufficiently develop.
"Lindbergh Baby Kidnapped" is the second
musical by the New York-based Vega to premiere at the
Theatre Project under the auspices of Towson University's
graduate theater program. (The first was last year's
"Heartfield," about a left-wing German artist
in Hitler's Germany.) In this case, director Susong and
his talented designers and cast have mounted an
impressive debut of a show whose conclusion is
questionable, and whose focus is blurred.
Copyright © 2001, The Baltimore Sun