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Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story at Jermyn Street Theatre

The ever-welcoming, pocket-sized, Jermyn Street Theatre, two minutes from Piccadilly Circus, has a knack of staging top-quality, unusual work, and Thrill Me is just such a piece. This eighty-minute chamber musical for two performers is ideal for the venue, and one finds oneself quickly being drawn into the world of these strange gay lovers, whose murder of a boy in 1924 provoked much media frenzy.

Jack Reitman and Bart Lambert - Photo Credit Steve Gregson.
Jack Reitman and Bart Lambert – Photo Credit Steve Gregson.

The musical itself, written by Stephen Dolginoff, was first seen off-Broadway some years ago, and has since received over two hundred productions all over the world, winning many awards on the way. The production under review, by Matthew Parker, was first seen at London’s Hope Theatre before the pandemic, and is very claustrophobic, quickly drawing the audience into the world of these two budding law graduates, whose crimes begin with arson, before becoming more ambitious as they get bored. Perhaps most impressive in the writing is the way that the playwright/composer dovetails music and speech so that the musical flows seamlessly, gradually building up tension until the horrifying scene involving a car, which is mesmerising.

The tale is told in flashback. We first meet Nathan Leopold at his parole hearing in 1958, having been in prison since 1924. Bart Lambert is superb in convincing us of the ages of both the older and younger Leopold, just by a simple partial change of costume, and we automatically believe that he is the underdog, willing to do anything in order to keep the attention of Richard Loeb. Lambert’s physicality, especially the use of his face and hands, is totally believable, and we find ourselves, against our wills, sympathising with him. This is an outstanding portrayal.

Jack Reitman is Loeb – magnificently evil and brooding but subtly underplayed. Is he really “in charge,” we ask ourselves, and what on earth can he see in Leopold, or are they just ‘toying’ with each other? Reitman’s physicality is also very imaginative – in his case, he underplays facial expression so we never know what he is really thinking. The interaction of these two singer-actors is totally involving.

The deceptively simple yet imaginative design is by Rachael Ryan, using moveable boxes to create simple settings, evocative mood-enhancing sound design is by Simon Arrowsmith and the ever hard-working musical director/pianist ( how good to hear a REAL piano, not an electric one!) is Benjamin McQuigg. All three add greatly to the overall effect of this piece of theatre, which, as I hope I have convinced you, is quite simply superb in every respect.

If you are still nervous about attending a theatre, Jermyn Street have arranged some ‘socially-distanced’ performances. If you do see it, I am sure you will not be disappointed – already one of my highlights of 2022!

5 Star Rating

Review by John Groves

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
Stephen Dolginoff
Directed by Matthew Parker
JERMYN STREET THEATRE
16B Jermyn Street, London, SW1Y 6ST
Thursday 13th January to Saturday 5 February 2022
https://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/

Author

  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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