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NY1 Theater Review: "Re-Animator," "Baby Case"

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The annual New York Musical Theatre Festival is in full swing as a variety of productions, including "Re-Animator" and "Baby Case," vie for a potential future on Broadway. Time Out New York’s David Cote filed the following review.

The New York Musical Theatre Festival is a great showcase for tuneful works that hope to be the new “Next to Normal.” Based on the two I saw, “Re-Animator” and “Baby Case,” there’s a lot more work to be done before they can move to the next level.

Based on the 1985 horror comedy about a monomaniacal medical student who develops a serum that causes corpses to rise, “Re-Animator” certainly doesn’t lack for gory visual effects. Heads are lopped off, intestines spurt blood over the front row and there’s an 11th-hour chorus of hideously disfigured zombies. But all this violence is nothing compared to the show’s crimes against musical theater.

Sure, this is a broad musical satire in the vein of “The Evil Dead” or “Young Frankenstein” but the story is poorly told through too many scenes that don’t need to be musicalized. It’s a common criticism: fewer songs, more book scenes. Still, the production, whose cast includes George Wendt of “Cheers” fame, is a goofy summer trifle.

On the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of tone and polish you have “Baby Case.” With book, music and lyrics by Michael Ogborn, this may be the most professional entrée in the festival.

“Baby Case” recounts the infamous case of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and murder. But rather than tell the story from, say, the parents’ perspective, Ogborn’s prismatic period piece jumps around to servants, witnesses, attorneys and Walter Winchell, who acts as a sort of cynical emcee.

Ogborn’s music, mixing 1930s pastiche and more modern pop, is often beautiful with witty lyrics. But the show’s vignette structure can grow monotonous. And certain conceptual flourishes, such as having the same actor play Charles Lindbergh and the accused Bruno Hauptmann, may look good on paper but just don’t work on stage.

Even though the two pieces I saw were not quite ready for prime time, you have to give the Musical Theatre Festival credit. For $25, you could catch a glimpse of Broadway’s future.

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