Heroes and villains. The press and the police. Innocence and guilt.
All these elements and more are interwoven in “Baby Case,” the current production at the Arden Theater. Written by Michael Ogborn, it is the story about the “Trial of the Century.” No, not the O.J. Simpson trial; the original “Trial of the Century” was the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh’s baby, and the subsequent prosecution of Bruno Hauptman, a carpenter and German immigrant.
The musical opens with film clips from Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic. Reporters follow him and his wife around the stage, begging for interviews. Every detail of their lives is published and eagerly devoured by the public. This sets the stage for the media frenzy that surrounds the kidnapping of the Lindberghs’ baby boy.
The investigation of the case consumes the rest of Act One, culminating in the arrest of Bruno Hauptman. Act Two tells the tale of his trial, which has long been questioned for its lack of impartiality; the press had convicted Hauptman long before his case went to court.
“Baby Case” is an account of prejudice, corruption and news media irresponsibility. At one point, a radio commentator states that, “Of course Hauptman is a German; no American would commit such a heinous crime.” Lindbergh uses his status as an American hero to direct the case and push for a speedy investigation. The character of Randolph Hearst, newspaper magnate, portrays the intense pressure put on the press by editors and newspaper owners. They must get the story, any story, no matter what.
The cast is a rather large one, including such characters as Lindbergh and his wife, J. Edgar Hoover, the radio priest Father Coughlin, and Al Capone. Of note is a radio journalist, Walter Winchell, who narrates the musical. Played by Scott Greer, he captures the persecution of the press against Bruno Hauptman. Hauptman himself is skillfully played by Ben Dibble, who gives the emotional performance of a man falsely accused of a terrible crime.
“Baby Case” runs through Nov. 11 at the Arden Theatre at 40 N. Second St. Call 215-922-8900 for more information.