Monday, May 25, 2009

Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story

My theatre company in Madison Wisconsin is producing this musical gem this June 19-26. It will be the state premiere.

THRILL ME: THE LEOPOLD AND LOEB STORY has book, music and lyrics written by Stephen Dolginoff. It was staged at the Midtown Theatre Festival in 2003, directed by Martin Charnin. In 2005, it was scheduled for a limited engagement at the York Theatre Company in New York City. After garnering many positive reviews (see below), the show was extended. Since then, there have been 31 companies of the musical world wide, including in Seattle, Buffalo, New Orleans, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles (where it won five Ovation Awards), and overseas in Seoul, South Korea, Athens Greece, Melbourne Australia and soon in both Canada and Japan! Upcoming US productions include ours in Madison as well as one in Charleston, SC.

THRILL ME is a different look at the legendary thrill killers Leopold and Loeb, who murdered a young man in Chicago in 1924 simply to see if they could get away with it...or so we thought. The story has been treated in numerous adaptations: Alfred Hitchcock's ROPE, the book and movie COMPULSION, and Joshua Logan's NEVER THE SINNER. But these adaptations focused on the trial and the crime, where Dolginoff's adaptation goes behind closed doors and develops a hypothesis for why the two young men REALLY committed the crime. It was proven, but often pushed into the background, that Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were lovers. The two had a contract between them: Loeb would satisfy Leopold sexually if Leopold would assist him in petty crimes. Dolginoff elaborates on this idea, painting Leopold as love struck and desperate for Loeb's attention. It certainly provides an explanation for the crime that so many people were fascinated by simply because it seemed to be random and pointless.

What attracted me to THRILL ME was its ability to surprise me. When I first listened to "Nothing Like a Fire" I thought, "Okay. This is a nice song. Pretty, whatever." Then I read the synopsis. Turns out, the beautiful, romantic fire the two boys are singing about in the song is actually one that they had set in a warehouse. The beauty of the piece against a backdrop of such a terrible situation made me want to explore it.

The show is written for only two actors and a piano. But somehow it managed to take New York by storm in the era of Jersey Boys, The Drowsy Chaperone, The Wedding Singer and Grey Gardens (it was nominated for Drama Desk awards alongside all of these hit shows). And it has been picked up with great enthusiasm internationally, which is rare for a show of this size and notoriety. I believe that it is going to become one of those shows you see quite a bit in edgier theatres and cities: a more structured "Assassins". The piano accompaniment, played beautifully on the cast recording by Eugene Gwozdz, is enough to satisfy anyone's need for a grand orchestra-the piano is a third character, embellishing the story with carefully planned flourishes and haunting underscoring.

Dolginoff stresses flow in this production in his author's notes. There are to be no applause breaks and no blackouts, and there is to be as little moving of scenery as possible. I am so excited to get our production on its feet (our actors are just wonderful) and to see how the audience reacts to it. It is a wonderful reminder that musical theatre grows and changes constantly, and that at this point in its development almost nothing is off limits.

Critics quotes: "Stephen Dolginoff's pocket musical about the Leopold and Loeb murder case lands like a well-placed punch, arresting and a bit breathtaking. Others have told the tale in plays and films, but there is something brazenly satisfying about Mr. Dolginoff's rendition. It's a reminder that evil often looks and sounds beautiful. Credit the lean approach to the storytelling." —NY Times. "Startling...Provocative...I can't get enough of this...Will keep you spellbound…THRILL ME freezes the blood and keeps you wanting more!" —NY Observer. "Stylish! With a noir attitude, THRILL ME is a two-character slice of pulp fact-fiction by intriguing storyteller Stephen Dolginoff." —NY Newsday. "A soaringly intense, propulsively melodic musical. Chillingly well-told, in all of its dark complexity." —Gannet Newspapers. "Dangerously attractive...Powerful...Dolginoff is a smart craftsman with a knack for forging arresting tunes. The robust score is feverishly crafted." —Star-Ledger. "A taut, compelling two-character musical. Stripping the event of the psychobabble that has surrounded it over the years, Dolginoff gets at the heart of it. The story sizzles." —BackStage. "Dolginoff shows that unlikely musical subject matter can be mastered if the approach is strong enough. You will be intrigued." — "A brilliant, unforgettable musical...Sends chills down the spine. Uncompromising and intoxicating." —Talkin' Broadway.

THRILL ME official site (Buy the cast recording and vocal selections here)

THRILL ME on the Drama Desk awards with Doug Kreeger as Richard and Stephen Dolginoff as Nathan.

Music Theatre of Madison production

Dramatists Play Service License (Listen to song clips)

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