Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story, the dark musical thriller with book, music, and lyrics by Stephen Dolginoff made its original production debut in 2003, and this award winning production by 21 Theatre returns to The Edinburgh Fringe this year as dark and menacing as ever.
This story of obsessive love and the cold calculated kidnap and murder of a child, 14-year-old Robert Franks, begins with the surviving member of the duo - Nathan Freudenthal Leopold Jr - as he faces a parole board for the 5th time on May 13th 1958. A parole board that is still waiting to see signs of true remorse from him for his crime and also to hear from him the reason why 34 years ago in Chicago in May 1924 he and Richard Albert Loeb committed such a terrible and apparently unmotivated crime.
As we are taken via testimony to the parole board, Leopold begins to explain his reasons for his crime and his obsessive devotion to Richard Loeb when they were only very young men themselves. This story is one of wealth and privilege, boredom, the search for sexual and worldly thrills and a belief of superiority fuelled by the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche and their belief in themselves as superior beings above the codes of morality that lesser mortals constrain themselves with.
The current venue for this production is a small church hall, and that feeling of enclosure in a small space and claustrophobia works well with this production’s sparse, but well utilised sets. This is a dark story and the lighting enhances that fact. Our on stage Leopold and Loeb are also chilling in their normality as they go about the planning and execution of their horrendous crime. The music to this show is stripped back to keyboards (hidden in the shadows) and as these dark songs unfold there is something uncomfortable about the way that the often melodic songs hide such disturbing lyrics.
I saw this production a few years ago when it came to The Fringe and found it a very dark and disturbing piece of work then, and it is just as dark and disturbing this time around. I am never too sure if a deed as horrendous as this murder should become theatrical entertainment or if the story should be left to die like some unspoken evil. I honestly don’t know the answer yet to that thought, but the one thing that is certain is that this is a story that pulls its audience right into the world of Leopold and Loeb and for a short time are in their world and when you leave the theatre you will still find it difficult to comprehend how for the sake of “Thrills” these two young men ever did this deed.
Review by Tom King