Review: Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story

4 star rating
The chilling and disquieting tale of 'the crime of the century', retold in musical format in a meticulously fashioned and laudable revival from an accomplished cast and creative team.
Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story

Bart Lambert as Nathan (left) and Jack Reitman as Richard - photo by Lhphotoshots


Theatre: Hope Theatre

Closes here: Saturday 20 April 2019

Author:
Stephen Dolginoff

Composer:
Stephen Dolginoff

Lyricist:
Stephen Dolginoff

Director:
Matthew Parker

Cast:

Nathan Leopold - Bart Lambert

Richard Loeb - Jack Reitman

Voice recordings - Dewi Hughes, Bryan Pilkington


Synopsis


Relationships can be murder!


Chicago, 1924.


Richard Loeb is obsessed with crime.


Nathan Leopold is obsessed with Richard.


They sign a contract in blood to satisfy each other's needs and embark on an intense sexual relationship powered by the thrill of committing crime.


But Richard soon tires of arson, theft and petty vandalism.


Under the delusion that he is an Ubermensch and above morality and law, he ropes Nathan into committing the perfect murder for the ultimate turn-on.


They become the Thrill Killers.


Background


From award winning writer Stephen Dolginoff and award winning director Matthew Parker comes THRILL ME: THE LEOPOLD & LOEB STORY; a true crime musical that has enjoyed success all over the world.


In the intimate confines of The Hope Theatre, two actors will entice and chill you with an evening of masochism, music and murder.


Based on a true story.


THRILL ME is the 9th in-house production from The Hope Theatre's award winning team.


It follows previous, Offie award nominated shows THE LESSON and BRIMSTONE & TREACLE and the award winning LOVESONG OF THE ELECTRIC BEAR.


ActDrop reviews


Peter Brown

Performance date: Thursday 4 April 2019
Review star rating image

This is the musical version of the story of the 'crime of the century'.


Well, it was the 'crime of the century' back in 1920's America.


But it's more than three decades after the roaring twenties when we discover one of the crime's perpetrators - Nathan Leopold - attempting to secure his release from prison at a Parole Board hearing.


That provides the vehicle for the storytelling in this show as Bart Lambert's ageing and rather pathetic Leopold reveals the nature of his relationship with Richard Loeb (played here by Jack Reitman) and their criminal activities which led them to prolonged incarceration.


Both from affluent families, Leopold and Loeb lived only two blocks from each other in the well-off Kenwood district in Chicago.


First meeting in 1920, their relationship bloomed thanks to a mutual interest in crime.


And that set them on the path of committing theft, burglaries, and even arson.


But the denouement of their criminal conspiracies was to come when they decided to kidnap and murder the 14-year-old Bobby Franks in May 1924.


The sensational nature of their crime attracted even more public interest because Loeb's family engaged the famous lawyer Clarence Darrow to defend the pair (at the staggering cost at the time of $70,000).


Darrow's speech at their sentence hearing ran to a marathon 12 hours and secured reprieve from the death penalty, but could not prevent the harsh sentence of 'life plus 99 years' being delivered to both young men.


With the Hope Theatre's artistic director, Matthew Parker, in formidable directorial command for this latest in-house production, we revel in a splendidly evocative and sometimes chilling revival of this musical, first aired back in 2003.


A meticulous and well-constructed work, more than ample to enthral, Mr Parker's production is, though, the beneficiary of an intriguing piece of musical theatre that is based on fascinating story telling, even if the nature of the central crime is appallingly grotesque.


The format for Stephen Dolginoff's musical could almost have been tailor-made for this intimate venue, with a cast of just two, backed-up with fine piano accompaniment - from musical director Tim Shaw - that frequently lends a spine-tinglingly sinister tone to events.


As with other recent in-house shows at this address, designer Rachael Ryan once more works a touch of transformative magic, adorning the interior with multiple images, and fashioning oppressively gloomy wooden walls to effect the 1920's setting.


Bart Lambert and Jack Reitman deliver distinctive and well-differentiated performances that make for an odd couple of privileged and highly intelligent delinquents.


Mr Lambert ably and easily flips from youthful co-conspirator to ageing prisoner desperate for release as we work through the plot.


He seems, almost for the duration, to be the ardent and obsessed devotee of Mr Reitman's more self-assured, more dominant Loeb.


Yet Mr Dolginoff's version of this story of "thrill killers" leaves us with a twist in the tail where Leopold is finally shown as someone more deviously determined than we might have judged earlier.


The songs here are not exactly memorable enough to make one dash out to buy the soundtrack, but they do cast an eeriness on the proceedings and are intertwined quite naturally with the dialogue so they never seem to jar as being contrived or intrusive.


And there's one haunting number - Roadster - that Mr Reitman sings when he's trying to persuade the murder victim into his car, that is creepily unsettling.


Gripping storytelling though this show undoubtedly is, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that an innocent young boy lost his life in a brutally macabre manner back in 1924.


That lends a hugely disquieting dimension to the piece as a whole, even though this is a highly laudable revival.


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