New York City Theater
"Thrill Me—The Leopold and Loeb Story"
York Theater Company, Manhattan
Murder, mayhem, madness. Stephen Dolginoff has taken the Leopold and Loeb story (touted to be “the crime of the century”) and turned it into a taut, compelling musical. Stripped of the verbiage and psychobabble which has surrounded the event over the years, Dolginoff gets at the heart of it.
In 1924 Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb murdered a young boy, one Bobby Franks, ostensibly for ransom money but actually for the thrill of it. How appropriate that Dolginoff (who created the book, music and lyrics) would name his show “Thrill Me”! Here is Richard Loeb, the psychopath, and Nathan Leopold, his adoring flunky. , In this twisted homosexual relationship, the two fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Scions of wealthy, respected Jewish families of Chicago, the pair were university students bent on law careers. But in fact their real pursuit lay in the petty burglaries and fires that Loeb concocted. For Loeb, sexual arousement came only by way of crimes, and that arousement persisted only as stakes were raised ever higher--from theft and arson to murder.
Though the actual facts (according to newspaper accounts of the time) differ somewhat from Dolginoff’s version, the writer has used dramatic license to create a strong piece. And in this production, under Michael Rupert’s unerring direction, the story sizzles. It plays out with just the two characters, with Doug Kreeger as Loeb and Matt Bauer as Leopold. Both turn in strong, affecting performances (with their acting outstripping their singing). Kreeger’s performance proves to be the more interesting, but by virtue of his character.
Dolginoff’s music and lyrics (though not striking in themselves) do enhance the story. When, for example, Loeb (Kreeger) sings “Roadster,” thus luring the young victim into his car, it is indeed a high, chilling moment.
-- Irene Backalenick
June 2, 2005