Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
May 9, 2014
Thrills were what the dangerous duo of Leopold and Loeb were all about. Their brutal, random 1924 murder of a 14 year-old doesn’t seem like the stuff of song.
“Thrill Me,” a provocative 80-minute show, is risky business: a musical with just two characters, a sociopath and a sexual obsessive. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were wealthy, brilliant Chicago law students who thought they were Supermen, à la Nietzsche, smarter than anyone and above the law. They were convinced that they could commit the perfect crime. Theirs became the Trial of the Century.
Stephen Dolginoff created the book, music and lyrics, and even performed in the 2005 New York production, which won multiple awards. His score can be angular and atonal; some of his rhymes seem forced . But he’s written some beautiful ballads about horrible things.
The story is irresistible, catnip for writers of books, plays and movies. Over time, the homosexual relationship has emerged from the shadows to take center stage. That was true in John Logan’s “Never the Sinner,” which was presented at Diversionary Theatre in 2002. Now, in “Thrill Me,” Diversionary brings us Leopold’s retrospective explanation of the heinous exploits of his youth, when he was 19 and Loeb was 18. It’s 1958, he’s been in prison for 34 years, and once again he’s seeking parole. And he’s attempting, yet again, to answer the question ,‘Why ?’
In Leopold’s telling, it was all Loeb’s idea. Loeb was addicted to danger. Leopold was addicted to Loeb, a blind and warped devotion that continued beyond their incarceration.
Under the taut direction of Bret Young, abetted by precise choreography, skillful piano accompaniment, excellent lighting and terrific sound, the story is riveting. The dramatic skill exceeds the musical acumen, but Scott Nickey’s Loeb has the handsome, menacing charisma, and Michael Parrott is perfect as his symbiotic foil.
It’s a chilling tale of passion as power, and how extreme acts can be inseminated by obsession.
“Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story” runs through May 25 at Diversionary Theatre.
©2014 PAT LAUNER