Sunday, May 12, 2013

Compelling Leopold and Loeb Musical Is Among Pandora’s Finest

Neill Robertson and Mason Stewart in
Thrill Me. Photo – Pandora Productions.

THRILL ME: The Leopold and Loeb Story

Book, music and lyrics by Stephen Dolginoff
Directed by J.R. Stuart

Reviewed by Carlos Manuel

Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Carlos Manuel.  All rights reserved.

First things first:  Pandora’s latest production of Thrill Me: the Leopold & Loeb Story is by far the best theatrical work the company has presented since The Temperamentals. The musical – with book, music and lyrics by Stephen Dolginoff – is based on the true story of Nathan Freudenthal Leopold Jr. and Richard Albert Loeb (better known as Leopold and Loeb), who were two wealthy University of Chicago students studying law who murdered a 14-year old kid.

The set design by Karl Anderson is simple and clean yet elegant; the lighting by Theresa Bagan is soft, sharp, yet superb; and the costumes by Donna Lawrence-Downs and sound design by Laura Ellis are both excellent. Of course, this story would have not been as good as it is without the focused and tight direction from J. R. Stuart and the magnificent performances by Neill Robertson as Nathan and Mason Stewart as Richard, who had the chemistry, the emotional strength and the sharp voices to portray Leopold and Loeb. This story is stunning, breathtaking, fascinating and creepily-told.

What makes this production so compelling is not only the magnificent artistic team the company’s producer, Michael J. Drury, managed to bring together, but rather that the story, as “creepy as it is for a musical” (as some audience member voiced on opening night), is as relevant to our daily lives whether we like to acknowledge it or not.

Thrill Me is a musical with a very dark theme and a scary scenario because it is based on a real murder, which was committed by two highly intelligent young men – one a homosexual (Richard Loeb) and one an eccentric sexual being (Nathan Leopold). The pair came together, made an unusual pact and decided to commit the “perfect crime.”

Because the musical relates to how they are going to commit the murder and how they try to get away with it, the musical numbers are not very uplifting; and if you expect some “song and dance,” you are in for a big surprise. However, because this is a psychological thriller, I must say that the music, the lyrics and the book of this piece are not only interesting but engaging. Add the fact that two great local actors give it all they got and you are in for the most uncomfortable yet satisfying ride you’ve ever taken.

But what really makes this production stand out is how Pandora Productions dares to push the envelope by presenting a work that shows gay men in a negative light. Why is this “a good thing”? Because as Mr. Drury states in his program notes: “There are bad people in all areas, in every community in the world.” Not only that but Thrill Me, even though it is based on a case that happened in the 1920, spookily and chillingly resembles a case that happened in our own city in 2010 where two gay men murdered a third and buried the body in the basement of their house.

I‘m not one who normally likes morbid stuff, nor do I like horror movies or violent scenes; but I am a sucker for a psychological dramas. I’m always intrigued to find out why people behave and act the way they do. In the case of the characters in this musical, they commit murder because Loeb is a psychopath and Leopold is so obsessed with Loeb that his love for him has no limits. And oh, what a thrill it is to see two young, talented actors become horrifying characters filled with emotional and psychological issues.

Whenever there is a tragedy that affects us, we try to make sense of the events by looking for answers as to why people do what they do. Sometimes we look the other way because we can’t deal with the reality of the situation. But no matter what we decide to do, one thing is for sure:  sometimes the answers we find are incomprehensible and beyond belief.

Thrill Me: the Leopold and Loeb Story is a theatrical piece with high artistic values – a musical that everyone in town should see because it forces us to accept reality, to look at ourselves as human beings, to question our fragile existence, and most of all, to remember that no matter who we are, where we live, and how much or little we know, as humans, we are complex beings who sometimes do good and other times do bad. And here is the rub:  because this musical will remind us all that we are not perfect and no matter how much we think know each other, we really do not know each other at all. And whether we like it or not, bad people are always going to be among us. Just think of the Boston Marathon Bombers or the recent, shocking Cleveland case, or…well, you get the idea. We are psychologically complex beings whose emotions sometimes run amuk for love, obsession or the simple thrill of getting away with murder. And that is very scary indeed.  

THRILL ME: the Leopold and Loeb Story

May 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, & 18 @ 7:30 p.m.
May 12 & 19 @ 5:30 p.m. & May 18 @ 2:30 p.m.

Pandora Productions
at the Henry Clay Theatre
604 S. Third St.
Louisville, KY 40202
(502) 216-5502


  1. I certainly expected a Tony award winning performance from Neil, instead I got two. Not only did Neill deliver, Mason blew it out of the park. I agree with everything the reviewer had to say. A must see.

  2. I was also blown away. While I enjoy the lighter productions that Pandora has produced over the years, I also seek to seek subject matter that deals with the a deeper side of our sexuality as well. The performances in Thrill Me will knock you out of the park. No fluff, just real raw emotion. Bravo to all who were involved.