Saturday 23 January 2016

Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story - Midsumma Festival review

Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were two young, highly intelligent men from wealthy families about to embark on a career towards law who were also lovers. However, the two men began to see themselves as far more intelligent than those around them, and to prove this, began to commit crimes, such as theft, arson and the eventual murder of a local boy in 1924, leading them to be nicknamed, "The Thrill Killers".

Presented as part of Midsumma Festival, Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story, with book, lyrics and music by award-winning writer/composer, Stephen Dolginoff, is a musical theatre show that examines the relationship between these two men and the lengths they went to, to get what they wanted. The story is effectively told in flashback with Nathan facing a parole hearing, having already served 33 years in prison. He recalls his infatuation with Richard, the lead up to the murder of Bobby Franks and their subsequent capture and arrest. Despite the outcomes of these real-life events being known already, the two actors manage to keep the audience engaged with the narrative and their relationship.

Vincent Hooper captures the (somewhat) innocence and yearning of Nathan who will more or less do anything to have Richard be by his side. It's difficult to feel any sympathy for someone who brazenly takes someone's life for no reason but for the sheer thrill, but Hooper is able to humanise Nathan and allow the audience to perhaps, understand why he did what he did.

Stephen Madsen however creates the opposite opinion with Richard, who comes across as dominating, manipulative and narcissistic. His callousness at his initial suggestion of murdering his annoying brother is both humourous yet horrific. His consideration is to himself and only to himself. This would have much to do with his obsession with Nietzsche and his concept of "supermen", individuals who held themselves above the law who believed they were of extreme intelligence and awareness.

Dolginoff's songs effectively convey the inner thoughts and emotions these men may have been feeling at the time, with Hooper bringing some outstanding moments with his vocal strengths. There are subtle comedic moments throughout, including the song "A Written Contract", in which the two create a legal document with one's participation in crime being repaid with sex. Other impressive musical numbers included "Thrill Me" and "Everybody Wants Richard". Pianist Daniele Buatti shows great dexterity with the demands of the music and is able to add to the mystery and the horrors that unfold, but with no mic on the piano, it was often drowned out by the vocals.

Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story is not your standard musical theatre show. It is not a show where everyone gets a happy ending or is full of bright colours and joy. It is, however, a rare musical production that will have you questioning, how far would you go for the one you love? With strong performances and a story that is literally out of the newspaper headlines, Thrill Me is bound to leave its dark mark on you. 

Venue: Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran 
Season: Until 31 January | Wed-Sat 8:00pm, Sun 5:00pm 
Tickets: $35 Full | $30 Conc 
Bookings: Midsumma Festival

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