Bart Lambert and Jack Reitman were joint winners of the OffWestEnd Award 2020 for Best Male Performance in a Musical for their roles in Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story at The Hope Theatre, directed by Matthew Parker. That production can now be seen at the Jermyn Street Theatre, where they play the roles of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb respectively in this gripping piece of musical theatre.
Justice is done to this extraordinary piece of theatre
As a work of fiction the storyline would be harrowing and grim enough, but it is actually a piece of history whose consequences at the time led to what was called ‘the trial of the century’. The two young men were from wealthy Chicago families, well-educated and highly intelligent; destined for successful careers in law. Both had dispositions and inclinations, however, that would lead to their downfall. Loeb styled himself on Nietzsche’s concept of the superior man, who is above the law. His self-belief was supported by the number of petty crimes and acts of arson he had committed without being caught; the pyromania also providing a form of sexual stimulation. For more intense thrills he was driven to find increasingly serious and challenging crimes to commit. Leopold was infatuated with Loebe and the only way he could receive the affection and sexual gratification from him that he craved was to participate in all the plots he hatched. The abduction and murder of a random boy was the ultimate ‘perfect crime’ that Loeb devised, but it didn’t all go to plan.
Reitman has the cool, polished appearance of an abundantly self-focussed, confident man who holds others in contempt. Measured lines and calm delivery convey the workings of Loeb’s mind and just how cold and calculating the man was and the extent to which he was able to manipulate Leopold. Lambert displays nervous subservience and the burning desire that Leopold had for Loeb with his constant pleading for attention, but also that there is perhaps more to this man than meets the eye.
The space at Jermyn Street Theatre makes for a very intimate and intense production. This is heightened by Rachael Ryan’s dark wooden set, superbly lit by Chris McDonnell, including a vivid fire sequence, and the chilling sounds devised by Simon Arrowsmith. Unobtrusively onstage throughout in a tight corner, musical director and pianist Benjamin McQuigg sustains the pace of the drama and supports the fine vocals.
The cast and production team have made sure that justice is done to this extraordinary piece of theatre that never ceases to thrill.