Joliet Prison. 1958. Nathan Leopold (Vincent Hooper) faces the parole review board for the fifth time. The facts of the case, dubbed by the media as ‘the crime of the century’, are known, but one question still remains; why? This is the premise of Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story, based on true events, appearing at Chapel of Chapel as part of the Midsumma Festival.
In May of 1924, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb (played here by Stephen Madsen) abducted and murdered 14-year-old Robert “Bobby” Franks, son of wealthy Chicago watch manufacturer Jacob Franks. The pair lured the young boy into a car rented by Leopold under a false name, where he was bludgeoned several times with a chisel, then gagged with a rag until he died. They removed his clothes, scared his features and genitals to obscure his identity, and dumped the body in a drainage pipe near Wolf Lake. With the body thus disposed of, the plan was to squeeze the Franks for a ransom.
As young men of above average intelligence, heading into a career in law, the pair saw themselves as Nietzsche-ian “Supermen”; exempt from the laws of the everyman. It was the perfect crime.
In Thrill Me, Leopold is fawning and eager to impress, with a fanatical obsession with Loeb, who seems a borderline psychopathic pseudo-intellectual. The pair has a somewhat sordid history, committing a series of crimes such as arson, which serve to arouse Loeb, and Leopold consents to out of devotion. One is often quick to dismiss musicals as “light-hearted”, but there is dark complexity to both of the characters that continues to develop as events progress, and by the end the audience is left questioning what they have witnessed, falling into the part of the parole board themselves.
Songs range from the romantic ballad Nothing Like a Fire (rendered somewhat disturbing as it is the fire of a warehouse they have burnt down), the sexually charged Thrill Me, mournful Way Too Far, and…it’s quite hard to describe the emotional impact of Life Plus 99 Years, but it will certainly leaving you feeling differently about our protagonists.
‘Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story’ is at Chapel Off Chapel until Jan. 31 at 8p, with a 5pm Matinee on Sunday. Book, Music & Lyrics by Stephen Dolginoff. Tickets are available here.