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Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story at Hope Theatre | Review

Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story
Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story

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 to Off-Broadway in 2005. Since then there have been numerous productions including some in London and now it has been revived at The Hope Theatre in Islington.

The piece starts in 1958 as Leopold tries to convince a parole board that after thirty-four years in prison that 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.

This production at The Hope Theatre, the tiny but perfectly formed 50-seater space above a pub in Islington is a total joy from start to finish. Everything is perfect and the 80 minutes or so just fly by – my companion didn’t even finish her glass of wine as she was totally engrossed. 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 an erotic chemistry between them that at times is electrifying – and they both sing wonderfully too, superbly accompanied by the piano of Musical Director Tim Shaw.

This is director Matthew Parker’s very first musical, but you would never have known it as he 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 and the excellent soundscape from Simon Arrowsmith makes for one of the most atmospheric pieces of theatre I’ve seen for a long time.

However, the real star of this production is the set design of Rachel Ryan. With a nod to Leopold & Loeb’s love of burning down buildings, the whole room is scorched and burnt dark brown – even the floor looks as if it was recently set fire to. Ryan’s 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 you see in every police drama on TV. All the items that are used by the couple to carry out their crimes have police evidence tags on which is a wonderful, almost subliminal touch as the story is being told as a flashback. There are other brilliant touches that add to the atmosphere and even Leopold’s glasses that are the cause of the couple’s downfall have one cracked lens.

The space at The Hope is one of the smallest above the pub theatres in London (the smallest?) and it’s perfect for a show such as Thrill Me 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.

If there is one tiny weakness in the piece is that the melodies, apart from one or two, aren’t that memorable but as they’re there to drive the plot, it really doesn’t matter as the book and lyrics are superb.

Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story is on until April 20th so get down to Islington before it closes and see one of the best musicals in town.

5 Star Rating

Review by Alan Fitter

Chicago, 1924. Richard Loeb is obsessed with crime. Nathan Leopold is obsessed with Richard.
They sign a contract in blood to satisfy each other’s needs and embark on an intense sexual relationship powered by the thrill of commia tting crime. But Richard soon tires of arson, theft and petty vandalism. Under the delusion that he is an Ubermensch and above morality and law, he ropes Nathan into committing the perfect murder for the ultimate turn-on. They become the Thrill Killers.

From award-winning writer Stephen Dolginoff and award-winning director Matthew Parker comes THRILL ME: THE LEOPOLD & LOEB STORY; a true crime musical that has enjoyed success all over the world. In the intimate confines of The Hope Theatre, two actors will entice and chill you with an evening of masochism, music and murder. Based on a true story.

RICHARD LOEB: Jack Reitman
Producer: Benjamin Alborough on behalf of The Hope Theatre
Director: Matthew Parker
Musical Director: Tim Shaw
Designer: Rachael Ryan
Lighting Designer: Chris McDonnell
Sound Designer: Simon Arrowsmith

Listings Information
Book, music and lyrics by STEPHEN DOLGINOFF
The Hope Theatre
207 Upper Street
London N1 1RL
2 – 20 April 2019


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