Midtown International Theatre Festival
July 14 – August 3, 2003
The Leopold & Loeb Story
Book, Music & Lyrics by STEPHEN DOLGINOFF
Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex
312 W. 36 St., NYC
Tickets: (212) 279-4200 or www.theatermania.com
Plays: 7/16, 7/19, 7/24, 7/26, 7/30, 8/1 & 8/3
Directed by MARTIN CHARNIN
Musical Director GABRIEL KAHANE
Stage Manager AMY M. EPSTEIN
Christopher Totten as Nathan Leopold
Matthew S. Morris as Richard Loeb
Voices: Sarah Crowley, Archie T. Tridmorten and Sean Kenin
The infamous 1924 Leopold and Loeb case has been the subject of or the inspiration for numerous films and plays (among the former, ROPE (1948), COMPULSION (1959) and SWOON (1992)). Now, the story is being presented as a musical for the stage entitled THRILL ME.
At the time of the 1924 murder, Nathan "Babe" Leopold and Richard "Dickie" Loeb were termed "thrill killers" because they executed a boy named Robert Frank simply to prove that they were Nietzschean supermen whom, due to their extraordinary intelligence (Leopold is said to have had an IQ of over 200), could commit the perfect crime. In a bizarre twist of circumstance, the loss of a pair of seldom-used but rare eyeglasses coupled with the extreme arrogance of the killers, Leopold and Loeb were apprehended within days. The true story comes with all of the built in plot points, save one. Motive. THRILL ME, presented as a flashback, and told by Leopold at his final parole hearing prior to his release, offers the missing link.
While the sorted case has been recounted many times, it is probably safe to assume that it has never before been staged as a traditional musical. Most significant is that, the Musical, usually light and airy, would by nature be one of the least accommodating genres for the telling of such a gruesome story. Somehow, it works. THRILL ME is dark. Some of the book is on the trite side. Yet, this hour and a half piece, that runs without an intermission, sets the audience right amidst the claustrophobic world of the two evil men it introduces. While not a literal retelling of the actual Leopold & Loeb case (THRILL ME, while sticking very close to the facts of the case does employ dramatic license with some of the details), this impressive new work imbues the work with the horror of the crime without ever including graphic staging, and most appreciably, without ever feeling like a documentary.
THRILL ME attempts to unlock the complicated psyches of the two main players. Leopold is a love-struck genius, and will seemingly do anything to gain the physical affections of his cohort. Loeb, on the other hand, seems to find exhilaration in crime, becoming aroused at the site of a fire he has set, and delighting in the hold he has over his weak-willed, but no less culpable paramour. In some well-crafted duets, like "Life Plus Ninety-nine Years" and "Thrill Me" the vocal talents of the two-man cast surface, momentarily distracting us from the horrors that abound.
At the Festival, THRILL ME is in a small space. Even two actors rub elbows with the audience. Though not expertly executed, and with nary an inch to spare, this new work by Stephen Dolginoff, as staged by veteran martin Charnin, suggests that these few performances are but a tease of what is to come.
I would be very surprised if a more substantial staging of THRILL ME did not surface in the very near future. If you can handle the dark subject, see it!
- Kessa De Santis -