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Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story

Alex Schemmer and
Stewart W. Calhoun

In 1924, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, two privileged and intelligent young men, murdered a fourteen-year-old boy in what was then the "crime of the century." Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story is Stephen Dolginoff's musical take on the criminals, having its Los Angeles premiere production by the new Havok Theatre Company, at the Hudson Backstage theatre.

In Thrill Me, Loeb is a man who has everything but is quickly bored with it. He decides to commit crimes for the thrill, requiring increasing danger in each crime to give him the high he needs. Seeing himself as a Nietzschean "Superman," he is absolutely positive he can get away with anything he tries, as he is superior mentally. And there is no moral culpability in anything he does, as the lesser mortals are simply there as his playthings. Indeed, he treats Leopold like dirt as well, even though he tells Leopold that he is a fellow "Superman."

Leopold isn't in this for the thrill; he's in this for Loeb. Leopold is willing to follow Loeb around like a puppy dog, and to do all the dirty work for him, in exchange for sex. Indeed, the two of them solidify their arrangement in writing: Leopold will "aid and abet" Loeb in his criminal enterprises, after which Loeb will "satisfy" Leopold's desires.

That's Thrill Me in a nutshell. The problem is, that's all there is to it. Thrill Me is a single act of 80 minutes, but even at that length, it goes on too long. This is a brief character sketch of the murderers - neither one of them has any sort of character arc for its actor to play. It's just 80 minutes of Loeb seeking the thrill of the crime, and Leopold seeking the thrill of Loeb.

There are a few standout moments. Alex Schemmer, as Loeb, turns on the gentle charisma in "Roadster," as he softly cajoles his young victim into his car. Only here can one see a glimmer of the Loeb that must have attracted Leopold, as, for the most part, the play only shows Loeb using Leopold and toying with his affections, for no other reason than the fact that he can. And Stewart W. Calhoun, who was so chillingly good in last year's dark play or stories for boys, has one or two well-timed bits where the real monster behind Leopold's lovestruck innocent façade can be spotted, making one think there are depths here yet to be mined.

The music is adequate but unmemorable; lyrics have many pedestrian rhymes ("how it hurt" and "feel like dirt" or "I'm overcome/I'm feeling numb.") Schemmer and Calhoun manage some decent harmonies, although Calhoun sometimes has problems with the higher notes. Steven Young's lighting design is particularly noteworthy, setting the mood for murder and creating some haunting images.

Cut to about a third of its length, Thrill Me could make a good vignette in an Assassins-like musical about murderers, but standing alone, it doesn't carry the evening.

Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story runs at the Hudson Backstage in Hollywood through March 2, 2008. For tickets, see

Havok Theatre Company presents Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story.. Book, music and lyrics by Stephen Dolginoff. Scenic Design Tom Buderwitz; Lighting Design Steven Young; Costume Design Rachel Myers; Sound Design Drew Dalzell; Publicity David Elzer/Demand PR; Production Stage Manager Art Brickman. Producer Chad Borden; Musical Director Michael Paternostro. Directed by Nick DeGruccio.

Nathan Leopold - Stewart W. Calhoun
Richard Loeb - Alex Schemmer

Photo: Michael Lamont

- Sharon Perlmutter

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