The first of two plays opening in L.A. this month that deal with the subject of 20th century “thrill killers” Leopold & Loeb, “Thrill Me” fails the test of its title. The fact that Stephen Dolginoff’s two-character musical is the Havok Theater Company’s inaugural production is inauspicious. Nick DeGruccio’s direction of a game cast can’t keep this show from being dramatically inert, and it is burdened further under a series of talky and tuneless songs that are generally indistinguishable from each other.
In 1958, Nathan Leopold (Stewart W. Calhoun) is being interviewed by a prison parole board for possible release. To this end he tells all the details of his deadly partnership and love affair with Richard Loeb (Alex Schemmer), and how the arc of their crime spree led from arson and theft to murder.
Calhoun comes off best as the possessive Leopold, bringing some real emotion to the proceedings, and he demonstrates a strong voice in songs such as the titular “Thrill Me” and “Life Plus 99 Years.” Schemmer’s perf comes to life mainly during moments where Loeb displays his anger and contempt, but otherwise seems to focus on the character’s petulance more than his charisma. His singing in “Superior” is lively, however, and his delivery of “Roadster” is effectively creepy. Unfortunately, Calhoun and Schemmer display little chemistry together — although they try hard — which undercuts the believability of the story and makes their passionate clinch at the end of the show seem forced.
If one only has two characters in a musical, with minimal set, one had best make sure that the songs and the performances are top-notch, and that just isn’t the case here. DeGruccio’s tepid direction brings nothing to the party, and Tom Buderwitz’s set is uncharacteristically bland. Steven Young’s expert lighting is a welcome presence, with some particularly nice fire effects. The blame for this show, however, really lies with Dolginoff, who manages to make “the crime of the century” uninteresting.