The biggest story in the USA in 1924 was the kidnapping and gruesome murder of 14-year-old Bobby Franks by two rich students from Chicago, Nathan Leopold Jr and Richard Loeb which became known at the time as “The Crime of Century” and made Leopold & Loeb infamous across the land. The two were lovers and Leopold’s obsession with Nietzsche’s concept of superman, led them to think they were infallible. They thought they were above the law and went on a crime spree that started with petty larceny and progressed to arson before turning to the worst crime of all – murder.
So not a combination that lends itself as the subject of a musical, but Stephen Dolginoff begged to differ and in 2003 Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story for which Dolginoff wrote the book, music and lyrics, was performed at a New York musicals festival before going Off-Broadway in 2005.
The piece starts in 1958 as Leopold tries to convince a parole board that after thirty-four years in prison he’s fit for release and the rest of the story is told as a flashback to 1924 and tells the tale of how the two met, planned the murder and their capture and incarceration.
Now after a highly successful run at The Hope Theatre in 2019, the same production has been revived at the Jermyn Street Theatre and whilst having to fill a slightly larger space, it’s still a total joy from start to finish. Everything is perfect and the 80 minutes or so just fly by. Bart Lambert brings us a twitchy, infatuated, spoilt brat Leopold and looks like a character from a 1930’s black and white film noir. Jack Reitman as Loeb has an air of the Great Gatsby about him and has the good looks of a matinee idol. The two have a homoerotic chemistry between them that at times is electrifying – and they both sing wonderfully too, superbly accompanied by the piano of Musical Director Benjamin McQuigg who’s even dressed as a character from the period. Director Matthew directs with a deft touch that makes the piece zing and brings the best out of Lambert and Reitman. He even makes the moving of some large props seem almost balletic.
This production seems to be a real collaboration between everybody involved and the superb lighting from Chris McDonnell allied with Rachel Ryan’s atmospheric set makes it feel as if you’ve stepped into a sepia photograph from the period. Ryan’s set is a work of art with a nod to Leopold & Loeb’s love of burning down buildings, the whole set is scorched and burnt dark brown. Her attention to detail is amazing with the walls covered with newspapers from the time and photographs from what looked like police files of the case all linked with bits of string – the kind of crime wall you see in every police drama on TV. All the items that are used by the couple to carry out their nefarious crimes have police evidence tags on which is a wonderful, almost subliminal touch as the story is being told as a flashback. There’s almost too much for the eye to take in as some of the photos are in the nooks and crannies of the set but they all add to the atmosphere which is given another layer by Simon Arrowsmith’s wonderful sound design which starts with some eerie music as the audience waits for the show to start and then various sound effects add another layer to the already dense production.
For the original run at The Hope, both Lambert and Reitman won OffWest End awards for Best Performance and Parker, Ryan and McDonnell were deservedly nominated. The space at the Jermyn Street Theatre is bijou and compact and it’s perfect for a show such as Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story as the intimacy of the space makes the audience almost complicit in the crimes of this reprehensible couple whilst at the same time being repelled by their actions.
Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story is one of the finest musicals of the last twenty years, so get down to Jermyn Street before it closes and see a truly brilliant musical, staged wonderfully and featuring two of the best performances currently on the London stage. Thrill Me will certainly thrill you!
Review by Alan Fitter
This dark and thrilling musical two-hander will feature Bart Lambert as Nathan Leopold and Jack Reitman as Richard Loeb. Lambert graduated from RADA in 2016. He works across screen and stage and has recently finished filming Save The Cinema for Sky Cinema. His other credits include Antigone for Storyhouse Chester and Bleak House for Creation Theatre. Reitman is an actor, singer and librettist who has worked at various theatres including Charing Cross Theatre, The Hope and OVO. His credits include Peter Pan for OVO and Gate at The Cockpit Theatre. Lambert and Reitman were joint winners of the OffWestEnd Award 2020 for Best Male Performance in a Musical for their roles in The Hope Theatre run of Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story.
Directed by the former artistic director of The Hope Theatre, Matthew Parker, Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story is a musical story of masochism and murder. Set in Chicago in 1924, Richard Loeb is obsessed with crime and Nathan Leopold is obsessed with Richard. High on adrenaline, the two leave a trail of arson, theft, and vandalism in their wake. But Richard wants to take a step further – a step that will test Nathan’s loyalty to the limit. Can they commit the ultimate crime: a perfect murder?
THRILL ME: THE LEOPOLD AND LOEB STORY
Book, Music and Lyrics by
Directed by Matthew Parker
JERMYN STREET THEATRE
16B Jermyn Street, London, SW1Y 6ST
Thursday 13th January to Saturday 5 February 2022