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The following are news articles pertaining to Curtain Call Productions as they appeared at Playbill Online.

Two Musicals About Lindbergh Baby Crime Now on Horizon 07-FEB-2000

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 in1998 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 150-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, jazz, 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 [transatlantic] 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

Copyright © 1995-99 Playbill Online

 

Lindbergh Musical, Baby Case, Continues in Philly Workshop to June 24 14-JUN-2000

Michael Ogborn's new musical, Baby Case, an examination of the hoopla surrounding the 1932 murder of aviator Charles Lindbergh's baby, began a two-week workshop June 12 at the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia.

Rehearsals directed by Arden producing artistic director Terrence J. Nolen and musical-directed by Vince DiMura lead to a public presentation at the Arden, June 24. The workshop was variously planned for March and May, but was bumped to June in order to not rush casting, orchestrations and rewrites, Ogborn told Playbill On-Line.

The Equity workshop is funded by an NEA new work development grant. The show had a 1998 reading in Manhattan with Jason Workman and Diane Fratantoni as the Lindberghs. Pieces of the show have been performed in the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop.

The Arden cast includes Charles Antalosky, Susan Artis (as Anna Hauptmann), Debbi Bauml, Scott Boulware, Charissa Carfrey, Ben Dibble (as Charles Lindbergh), Brian Dorsey, Bill Fitzpatrick, Kristine Fraelich (as Betty Gow), Scott Greer, Tracie Higgins, Forrest McClendon, Mary Kate McGrath (Anne Morrow Lindbergh), Fran Prisco, Richard Ruiz, Michael Toolan-Roche and Todd Waddington.

The murder of aviator Charles Lindbergh's son, Charles Jr., caused a sensation in 1932.

Composer-lyricist-librettist 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, 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."

In February, days after Playbill On-Line broke the story about Ogborn's Lindbergh-baby workshop, a Maryland producer revealed plans for another Lindbergh musical, 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.

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 Arden reading will conclude the troupe's inaugural season of the Independence Foundation New Play Showcase. The New Play Showcase is designed to support the Arden's efforts to create, develop and produce new works of American theatre. The other two plays in the showcase this season were Dennis Smeal's play Exit Wounds, and Red Herring by Michael Hollinger.

The Arden Theatre is located at 40 N. Second Street, in Philadelphia. Baby Case tickets are available on a first-come, first serve basis. They will be handed out in the lobby starting at 7:30 PM. Call the box office for more information at (215) 922-1122.

-- By Kenneth Jones
and Daniel Fischer

Copyright © Playbill Online

PBOL'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Feb. 5-12: Seeing Double 11-FEB-2000

Forget about the two Wild Party musicals. What about those dueling Ugly Ducks? Or, better yet, the double Lindbergh baby shows?

Hollywood routinely finds itself with two films about the same subject matter on its hands. Usually the theme is natural disaster: two volcano movies, say, or, most recently, two meteor-hurtling-toward-Earth flicks. But, in the world of theatre, where new musicals are few and developed over a long period of time, such logjams are usually avoided. Indeed, no one can remember a time when two tuners using the same source material where forced to compete with one another, as are the separate Manhattan Theatre Club and Public Theater productions of The Wild Party.

However, in recent weeks, there is further proof that theatrical minds think alike. The most surprising coincidence certainly involves the Lindbergh shows. Even more remarkable than the fact that someone would try to base a musical on the infamous kidnapping of aviator Charles Lindbergh's infant -- surely one of the darkest ideas for a musical, yet -- is that two people would hatch the idea. Playbill On-Line first learned of Baby Case by New York-based composer-lyricist librettist Michael Ogborn. The work will receive a workshop at Philly's Arden Theatre Company in March. Just days later, word came on Lindbergh Baby Kidnapped!, also about the Lindbergh child, also by a New York-based composer-lyricist-librettist, this time Kenneth Allan Vega. His composition -- a finalist for the Richard Rodgers Award in 1997 -- will be staged in February 2001, at Baltimore's Theatre Project under the direction of Scott Susong.

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, the Henry Krieger-Bill Russell-Jeffrey Hatcher musical, Everything's Ducky is doing well. The musical version of Hans Christian Andersen's tale of the Ugly Ducking sold out at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, CA, adding a couple extra performances and becoming the company's biggest success ever. Now, there is talk of a summer production in San Francisco. "It's about acquiring self-esteem, taking each day with a plucky attitude, and not letting anyone make you feel like you aren't good enough," Krieger said.

Everything's Ducky's success hasn't stopped the good folks at Nyack's Helen Hayes Center from going forward with Honk!, another go-around with the Anderson's fabled fowl which begins its run Feb. 12. The original English production of this Anthony Drewe-George Stiles show is up for a London Olivier Award for Best Musical this year. Alison Fraser and Stephen DeRosa star in the Stateside rendition.

Very likely, theatregoers may see these musicals duking it out in New York theatre seasons to come -- though the outcome of the Wild Party stand-off is likely to influence producers' willingness to test audiences' fondest for theatrical déjà vu.

Speaking of Honk!, shouldn't someone have a word with the Helen Hayes people about the shows currently inhabiting the fame actresses' namesake theatres? As mentioned above, the marquee of Nyack's Helen Hayes Center currently declaims, Honk!. Meanwhile, at Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre, a slightly ruder, though rhyming, monosyllable prevails. This is Squonk, the Pittsburgh-based performance group which, since beginning previews on Feb. 9, surely reigns as the most unusual thing currently playing the Great White Way. What's it about? Well, I wouldn't want to spoil it, but at various times you'll be reminded of Riverdance, Julie Taymor, "Alien" and "The Fantastic Journey." And the show has much to do with eating, digestion and all thing gastronomic; dine beforehand.

George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber are hot properties of late, but only, it seems, when teamed. Musicals based on both the duo's The Royal Family and Dinner at Eight are currently in the works. The former 1927 comedy has been percolating the longest. William Finn has written tunes to Richard Greenberg's book, with Jerry Zaks directing. A workshop was held in December 1998; now, a new workshop is underway. Playing the members of the play's theatrical family -- obviously based on the Barrymores and Drews, though Kaufman and Ferber denied it -- are Laura Benanti, Carolee Carmello, Tovah Feldshuh, Bryan Batt and Elaine Stritch. Barry and Fran Weissler are the producers.

Feldshuh, as chance would have it, was also in readings this week of composer Ben Schaechter, lyricist Frank Evans and librettist (and Ferber's great niece) Julie Gilbert's, musicalization of 1932's Dinner at Eight. For composers searching for subject matter, Kaufman and Ferber collaborated on one other play, Stage Door.

Finally, the theatre community lost an invaluable man this week. Arthur Seelen, the longtime owner of New York City's Drama Book Shop, died on Feb. 7 at 76. It is no stretch to say that the Drama Book Shop is the preeminent theatre-related book store in the U.S. Every actor, playwright, director, producer, critic and fan who lives in New York, or has merely visited the city, has browsed its quirky second floor digs at Seventh Avenue near 48th Street. (Though many have gotten lost when first trying to locate it.) Many an hour can be lost searching through the tall shelves, which radiate to the left and right from the store's center, and are packed plays, anthologies and biographies, as well as volumes on acting technique, theory and criticism.

Brooklyn-born Seelen began as an actor (he understudied George C. Scott in Broadway's The Wall in 1960). He bought the store in 1958 and, along with his wife Rozanne, has been running it ever since. No plans for a memorial have been announced, but a more fitting tribute might simply be to pay a visit to the store that was the greatest expression of his passion for the theatre.

--By Robert Simonson

Lindbergh Baby Ends March 3 in MD; Second 'Baby Case' Tuner Coming 03-MAR-2001

Lindbergh Baby Kidnapped, Kenneth Allan Vega's music-theatre exploration of the infamous kidnapping and murder of the infant son of Charles Lindbergh, ends its world premiere run in Baltimore March 3.

The limited engagement at Baltimore Theatre Project, co-produced by BTP, Curtain Call Productions and Towson University's MFA in Theatre, opened Feb. 16.

This is the first of two Lindbergh-baby musicals to be presented in 2001. Lyricist-composer-librettist Michael Ogborn's Baby Case gets its second workshop at the Arden Theatre in Philadelphia (under the direction of Terrence Nolen) in the spring and opens the 2001-2002 season in fall.

Director and co-designer Scott Susong got good reviews for his highly visual staging of librettist-composer-lyricist Vega's Lindbergh Baby Kidnapped. The Baltimore Sun called the script's focus questionable.

The story of the crime is told through six fictitious reporters who relish the media blitz, and director Susong uses puppetry, movement, video and still projections. The time period covers 1932-36, between the time of the kidnapping and the execution of the alleged killer.

The directorial approach is "very physical" and "gestural" in the tradition of director Anne Bogart, Susong previously told Playbill On-Line. "[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."

Tom Burke is music director, Nancy Wanich-Romita choreographs. The production features Cristen Susong, Kelli Danaker, Greg Shirk, Lauran Taylor, Dennis Scott and Josh Singer, M. Rohaizad Suaidi and others.

New Yorker Vega recently wrote the book for 1001 Nights, collaborating with composer-lyricist John Mercurio and producer Andrew Kato. The musical concerns a theatre troupe touring the ante-bellum South and helping to smuggle runaway slaves. A staged reading was presented at the York Theatre in New York in October 1999 and a week-long workshop was part of the Next Stage Festival at the George Street Playhouse in New Jersey in May 2000. Vega's music theatre piece, Heartfield, was given a staged reading under the direction of Gabriel Barre in December 1997 at the Manhattan Theatre Club, a public reading in February 1999 at Towson University and a full production at the Baltimore Theatre Project April-May 2000. Lindbergh Baby Kidnapped was a finalist for the Richard Rodgers Award in 1997.

Baltimore Theatre Project is a 250-seat independent space known for edgy work in Baltimore.

Tickets are $8-$14. Baltimore Theatre Project is at 45 W. Preston St., Baltimore. For ticket information, call (410) 752 8558.

*

The dual projects echo the competing stagings of the musical, The Wild Party in the 1999-2000 Broadway season. Those shows, by different authors and mounted by The Public Theater and Manhattan Theatre Club, respectively, were based on the same source material: Joseph Moncure March's Jazz-Age verse poem, "The Wild Party." A third version of the story, using period music, pieces of the original text, dance and more, was staged by The Studio Theatre in Washington DC in 1999.

— By Kenneth Jones

 

Musical Fantasia About Lindbergh Baby Crime Gets Philly Workshop, June 11-24 11-JUN-2001

Baby Case, composer-lyricist-librettist Michael Ogborn's theatrical fantasia on the subject of the kidnapping of aviator Charles Lindbergh's infant son, will get a second workshop by Arden Theatre Company June 11-24, prior to a full staging that will open the Philadelphia nonprofit's 2001 2002 season.

The Arden offered a two-week workshop and presentation of the aborning satirical musical in June 2000 under the direction of producing artistic director Terrence J. Nolen, who will again helm the second workshop and the fall staging. Free public performances of Baby Case will be heard in the Arden's F. Otto Haas Theatre June 23-24.

In February 2001, Scott Susong produced, directed and designed New York City composer-lyricist-librettist Kenneth Vega's musical, Lindbergh Baby Kidnapped!, which coincidentally used the same subject matter — the media circus surrounding the murder. The staging was seen at Baltimore Theatre Project.

— By Kenneth Jones

 

The following article originally appeared in The Baltimore Sun 2/17/01

Musical not a striking piece
Review: 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 news broke.

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 and Hauptmann.

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



The following article is from:

Baltimore
CITYPAPER

History Lesson       

February 28 - March 6, 2001

Center Stage Revisits Auschwitz; Theatre Project Explores Lindy's Heartbreak

Review By Brennen Jensen

The Investigation
By Peter Weiss
At Center Stage through March 18

Lindbergh Baby Kidnapped
By Kenneth Allan Vega
At Theatre Project through March 3


The Investigation is an evening of musical chairs of the most disturbing kind. Center Stage's main stage is opened up all the way to a bare brick rear wall. Filling the vast stage are 20-some chairs of diverse design. And filling these chairs are actors portraying Auschwitz concentration-camp victims and their oppressors. Playwright Peter Weiss presents a dramatic re-creation of the longest trial in German history. Held from 1963 to 1965, the epic court battle pitted a collection of camp guards and doctors against some 400 former inmates of the Nazis' most notorious death camp. Every word of dialogue comes directly from original trial transcripts.


It pays to get to this intense show early so as to have time to read the wealth of background material dramaturge Charlotte Stoudt has provided in the program--Weiss' work gains in power when placed in historical context. Center Stage is giving The Investigation its first major professional production in 36 years. Today it's common for playwrights and filmmakers to address the Holocaust, but when the play debuted in 1965 (on a dozen stages throughout the then-divided Germany), West Germany had only recently completed a miraculous rebuilding effort, and many Germans didn't want to revisit the dark days of the past. Weiss shows this through the arrogant, angry way some of the defendants react to the questioning. Accused guard Fredrich Boger (Jeffrey Ware, as a wickedly jaunty sadist) swiftly and defiantly denies participating in any cruelty--even in the face of an eyewitness account of him crushing a child's skull. His comrades likewise deny each allegation, occasionally falling back on the era's chief cop-out: "I was only following orders." (Strangely, some of the victims present their horrific tales with muted emotion--even when the tales are of the most grisly nature imaginable.)

The play is broken into cantos, the titles of which are projected on the rear wall; there is "Song of the Black Wall," about a place for executions, and "Song of the Swing," which discusses a torture device. A real twist occurs when the actors switch roles between cantos, victims becoming the accused and vice versa. (Wandering musicians sometimes cross the stage between cantos to emphasize the production's musical-chair aspects.) This all plays into Weiss' underlining conceit: to expose the mindset and human conditions that can lead to mass murder. Indeed, the words "Jew" and "Nazi" are never spoken, underscoring that the work--though based on specific horrors--is also about exploring humankind's general propensity to engage in genocide (as it has since World War II in Cambodia, Central Africa, and the Balkans).

It's odd, then, that The Investigation is credited with kick-starting the ongoing artistic examination of the Holocaust (everything from the comic book Maus to Steven Spielberg's epic Oscar-winner Schindler's List). In the wake of all the personal and graphic depictions of Nazi brutality, The Investigation is startlingly different. Sometimes, it seems, you have to reach back nearly 40 years for something new.

From the murder of millions presented via courtroom dialogue, we move to the stealing of one infant presented with blisteringly paced razzle-dazzle. Lindbergh Baby Kidnapped, a new Kenneth Allan Vega piece, now in the middle of its world-premiere run at Theatre Project, tells the tale of how, in 1932, someone put a ladder up against aviation hero Charles Lindbergh's New Jersey home and kidnapped his infant son. The thoroughly busy production, put on by Curtain Call Productions, LLC and Towson University's MFA in Theatre program, employs video footage, computer projections, puppets, and dance. Oh, and the whole thing is a musical.

It turns out to be a case of dramatic-devices saving a weak script--all the bells and whistles only serve to distract viewers from a flawed libretto. Today celebrities routinely hire bodyguards to protect them from the worshipful and/or opportunistic public. The Lindbergh tragedy was perhaps the first high-profile case in which a beloved figure fell victim to his own fame, and the then-burgeoning mass media turned the tragedy into a sensation that rocked the dark days of the Depression.

That the production succeeds despite its heavy-handed book is largely due to the casting.  Director, Scott Susong has gathered a young, eager, and well-voiced cast. Nine actors portray a variety of roles, taking us from Lindbergh's 1927 transatlantic flight through the kidnapping investigation and resulting trial. It's a real whirlwind of a work, with the actors jumping in and out of lead characters while periodically becoming a pack of rapacious reporters hunched over bulky typewriters trading theories about the crime. Standouts include Dennis Scott, who plays Lindbergh with heroic resolve and later gives suspect Bruno Richard Hauptmann a mysterious vulnerability, Cristen Susong, whose voice soars as Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Josh Singer who energetically plays a whole host of roles--including gossip columnist Walter Winchell--with drive. None of the tunes, pounded out on an upright piano by Tom Burke, are likely to become songbook standards. But they are refreshingly old-fashioned, not rife with the endless crescendos and faux-emotional waffle that mark most modern musicals. ("Roadhouse Tango" and "Justice" are two of the more pleasing ditties).

Lindbergh ultimately stays aloft amid its myriad of plot twist and turns, presenting a fascinating history lesson and a chance to see some fresh-faced song-and-dance folks before they become jaded Broadway automatons.


The following article is from:

for the week beginning February 21, 2001

Is Vega's Baby worth the ransom?
by Mike Giuliano

    When the infant son of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh was kidnapped and killed in 1932, newspapers referred to it as the crime of the 20th century.  It still resonates in our culture, as could be sensed in the obituaries for Mrs. Lindbergh, who died early last week at age 94.
    Her recent death coincidentally amounts to publicity for the world premiere of a musical drama titled "Lindbergh Baby Kidnapped" CO-produced by Curtain Call Productions, LLC and Towson University's graduate theatre program, it's being staged at Baltimore's Theatre Project.
    Although the music and the messages of composer/librettist/lyricist Kenneth Allan Vega tend to be as subtle as a sledgehammer, there's a lot of interesting material percolating here.  Not everything works, but there's enough vitality in the production to immerse us again in those traumatic events.
    The production's most intriguing tactic is having six fictitious newspaper reporters covering the case also play an assortment of characters both fictional and historical.  This pays dividends in Dennis Scott's quick costume and personality changes as he embodies a reporter, Lindbergh and Bruno Richard Hauptmann (who was convicted of the crime).  If Mr. Scott really rises to the challenge as an actor, Cristen Susong matches his prowess as a vocalist with her stunning vocals for the lead reporter and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.  Others in the cast are more heavy-handed with their shifting characterizations, but the script doesn't exactly have a light touch, either.
    Just as the actors deserve credit for shifting identities so often, so does director and CO-designer Scott Susong who brings off these film-like transitions without confusing us.  He coordinates live actors, puppets, video and slide projections so well that the story moves ahead with ease and clarity.  However thuddingly obvious some of the speeches and song lyrics may be, he never allows them to bring the show to a halt.
    "Lindbergh Baby Kidnapped" is an encouraging improvement for Vega, whose lengthy musical about an anti-Nazi German artist, "Heartfield," was mounted at Theatre Project last year (and seemed to have a running time of about a year).  Both musicals are biographical studies in which Vega explores the connections between the individual lives and larger political concerns.
    Although "Lindbergh" is much tighter, a bit less strident and much slicker than "Heartfield," probably due to Susong's influence, there are still so many Kurt Weill-evocative tunes belted out, this time to the accompaniment of Tom Burke, that the poor cast members risk becoming as hoarse a picket line agitators.  Some more editorial pruning wouldn't hurt.
    Also, while Vega seems to have a firm command of the biographical facts in the case, his central argument is debatable.  Hauptmann, who was executed for the crime, was innocent as far as Vega is concerned.  He isn't the first person to make this claim, but his musical takes it as a given and then basically stacks the evidence presented in Act II in his favor.  Vega also suggest a parallel sense of loss felt by the Lindbergh and Hauptmann families, but that remains sketchy.
    Another thematic claim that doesn't completely convince is that Vega blames the media for much of what happened during the trial.  After all, the story is told by a half-dozen reporters, and there's even a number called "It's a Circus," as in media circus.  The Lindbergh case was exactly that, and one can't blame Vega for connecting that media frenzy in the 1930s to the O. J.  Simpson case in the 1990s.  One of the most striking moments is in the final song when headlines from the past and present are juxtaposed on the two large screens as the company sings "Today's news wraps tomorrow's fish."
    There's no denying that media-generated sensationalism is a disturbing modern phenomenon, but Vega's analysis doesn't extend beyond having his pianist point accusatory fingers at the keyboard and point out tunes with more volume than depth.

The following article was originally published in The Baltimore Sun on June 21, 2001

Nontraditional 'Fiddler' hits some odd notes
Review:


The tone of the performance at the NEW Cockpit in Court seems strange at times.

As the Jewish milkman Tevye explains, in his little Russian village everyone is "a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck." But at times, Cockpit in Court's "Fiddler on the Roof" loses its balance. While it features some inspired scenic elements and solid performances, the portrayal of Tevye is rather odd, and the direction often looks posed.

Tevye talks to God - and to the audience -- and his portrayal is crucial. John Amato is a logical choice for this role, having ably played a similar character in a 1999 local production of "Rags," which can be seen as a loose sequel to "Fiddler." (Both shows have books by Joseph Stein.)

Mr. Amato brings just the right overburdened mannerisms to this struggling soul, who is not only shackled with five dowry-less daughters, but also is shackled literally to his milk cart after his horse becomes disabled. Yet his performance is hampered by an accent that sounds partly British and partly like Jon Lovitz. It detracts from the touching work the actor displays in his interactions with Tevye's daughters and wife.

However, he is more than ably supported by Joan Merritt as Tevye's wife, Golde.  Ms. Merritt gives added poignancy to Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock's score. Claire Carberry, Vivian Fenstermaker and Melissa Weinberg are fine as the couple's three older daughters. And Matthew J. Bowerman brings fervor and intelligence to the role of the student radical who marries one of Tevye's daughters.

When the entire ensemble is on stage, director Scott Susong tends to arrange the actors in groups that look more like a photo op than a dramatic situation, but these few moments are leavened by the lively choreography he has CO-created with collaborator, Jayne Murphy.

Perhaps the best example of the production's imbalance is a scene in which Tevye recounts a nightmare featuring a ghost. Julie Borsetti has designed for Susong this apparition as an enormous, horrific rod puppet with a skewed red gash of a mouth. But striking as this vision is, it's diminished by the fact that the ghost's shrieking, amplified voice is largely unintelligible due to mic problems.

Still, the overall look of designer Terri Raulie's set works well. The chief feature is a backdrop of three Marc Chagall-inspired scrims. Behind each, slanted platforms serve as reminders that the village is always teetering on edge. It's a charming effect in a production whose footing isn't always as sure as the fiddler's.

Show times at Cockpit, on the Essex campus of the Community College of Baltimore County, 7201 Rossville Blvd., are 8 p.m. today through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost $13 and $15. Call 410-780-6369.

Copyright © 2001, The Baltimore Sun