Presented by the York Theatre Company, casting by Norman Meranus, at the Theatre at St. Peter's Church, 619 Lexington Ave., NYC, May 26–June 25.
Murder, mayhem, madness: Stephen Dolginoff has taken the Leopold and Loeb story—once touted as "the crime of the century"—and turned it into a taut, compelling, two-character musical. Stripping the event of the verbiage and psychobabble that has surrounded it 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, then, that Dolginoff, who created the book, music, and lyrics, would name his show "Thrill Me." In this twisted homosexual relationship, Loeb, the psychopath, and Leopold, his adoring flunky, fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Scions of wealthy, respected Jewish families in Chicago, they were university students bent on law careers. But their real pursuit lay in the petty burglaries and fires that Loeb concocted. For Loeb, sexual arousal came only by way of crimes, and that arousal persisted only as the stakes were raised ever higher—from theft to 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 under Michael Rupert's unerring direction, the story sizzles. Doug Kreeger as Loeb and Matt Bauer as Leopold turn in strong, affecting work, with their acting outstripping their singing. Kreeger's performance proves to be the more interesting, but only by virtue of his character.
Dolginoff's music and lyrics, though not striking in themselves, enhance the story. When, for example, Loeb, in an attempt to lure the young victim into his car, sings "Roadster," it is a chilling moment.