Given its dark story based on a real-life murder and its reliance on two actors to carry the show, the musical Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story is fraught with potential pitfalls. Fortunately there is enough to like in the current Fighting Chance Productions presentation to overcome both these obstacles and more.
Thrill Me tells the story of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, two wealthy University of Chicago law students who planned and murdered a 14-year-old boy in 1924, motivated by Loeb’s desire to commit the perfect crime and Leopold’s desire for Loeb. It is within this dynamic that playwright Stephen Dolginoff frames his story, exploring the relationship between the two that saw Loeb trade sexual favours for Leopold’s complicity.
At only 75 minutes without intermission, Thrill Me moves at a break-neck speed. Playwright Dolginoff packs a lot into that short time, but judiciously concentrates on the bizarre motivations of his two characters as he presents the key facts of the murder. Told in a series of flashbacks as Leopold appears before a faceless parole board, we are offered a sometimes shocking explanation of the duo’s relationship while walking a fine line between exploitation and fact.
The ability to effectively tell Dolginoff’s version of what was labeled as the “crime of the century” rests squarely on the shoulder of its two actors and its director, demanding an equal level of sensitivity to the potentially exploitative nature of the story. As the duo, Bradeon Cox and Michael Gill take that responsibility to heart.
Gill is particularly good here with his curled lip that is at times a perfect mix of malevolence and sex appeal, making it easier to understand the attraction Loeb had on Leopold. While Gill had a tendency to pose, he managed to find the necessary intimacy between the two easier than Cox; this was particularly noticeable when forced into close quarters with each other. Both do fine work with Doginoff’s music though, ably accompanied on piano by musical director Alison Dalton.
Director Ryan Mooney moves outside the customary theatre space and into the old Vancouver Playhouse scene shop, now part of Renegade Studios. As gritty as the story, it makes for a great choice although it felt under-utilized and became a traditional staging in an untraditional space.
Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story is a macabre love story with some fine vocal performances and a killer location. While the subject matter may cause some to hesitate, the biggest obstacle may very well be the audience actually finding the performance space. When you do though, knock three times and tell them Clarence sent you.
Book, music an d lyrics by Stephen Dolginoff. Directed by Ryan Mooney. A Fighting Chance Productions presentation. On stage at the Renegade Studios through December 2, 2012. Visit http://fightingchanceproductions.ca for tickets and information.