REVIEW: THRILL ME (Jermyn Street Theatre)

It is ironic that the Jermyn Street Theatre took the first option on the multi-award winning musical thriller by Stephen Dolginoff in 1999. Seventeen years and 125 productions later, Dolginoff’s musical about the “thrill killers” has finally arrived at the JST.

One of Clarence Darrow’s most notorious cases, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb stood trial in 1924 for brutally murdering their 12-year old cousin Bobby Franks. Strongly influenced by the “Übermensch” idea by Nietzsche, and misunderstanding it, the two law students thought their intellectual superiority placed them outside the law giving them free reign to do anything they pleased. Does this storyline sound familiar? Alfred Hitchcock based his film Rope on this case. After a series of petty crimes and felonies, including arson, they proceeded to commit a capital crime – and got caught. Clarence Darrow, strongly opposed to the death penalty, succeeded in saving the two teenagers from the gallows but they were both sentenced to life and 99 years.

Stephen Dolginoff’s musical begins with Nathan Leopold’s fifth parole hearing. He has been in prison for 34 years but parole has been denied up to this point. The parole board wants to know the reason why he and Richard Loeb murdered a child. For the thrill of it? Nathan takes them back to the time when he met Richard again after years of separation. They are both law students now, Nathan at Harvard, Richard at the University of Chicago because his grades were not good enough. Nathan idolises the handsome and dashing Richard and Richard enjoys Nathan’s worship. He also likes to use Nathan as his lookout when he sets warehouses on fire. Nathan is his willing accomplice as long as he gets his share of attention and affection. Yet Richard eventually gets bored with stealing things he does not need. He wants to commit a “superior” crime.

The musical greatly benefits from Stephen Dolginoff’s score, played by pianist Tom Turner, that drives the action and reflects the state of mind of the two protagonists. Sebastian Hill brings a psychopathic intenseness to the handsome Richard that is frightening and seductive in equal measure. His voice has an almost operatic quality that sometimes drowns out Guy Woolf’s softer tones – an excellent Nathan whose devotion to Richard is so absolute that it must be considered submissiveness. Nathan yearns to obey Richard as long as gets his own thrills, and director Paul Glaser makes their relationship rather physical. I was not quite sure why dry ice had to be pumped onto the stage at regular intervals, accompanied by a strange noise, as the two actors managed to create a very intense atmosphere without needing the help of any gimmicks.

A fast-paced, suspenseful musical thriller with more than one twist.

Reviewed by: Carolin Kopplin

Thrill Me is playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 16 January. Click here for tickets