Thrill Me doesn’t. But don’t take that as a severe criticism of composer-author Stephen Dolginoff. Unquestionably, he has talent and ambition, both plainly revealed and finally thwarted by this tiny, somber, spiritually cramped two-character musical. The subject—the 1924 “thrill killing” of a 14-year-old by college whiz kids Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold—is its own guarantee of failure: There’s almost nothing in this story that anybody could want to sing about. Choosing the intractable material shows Dolginoff’s longing for challenge; that he sustains its tone for most of the show’s 80 minutes shows his skill.
Rich, Jewish, and gay, Chicago pre-law students Leopold and Loeb shared a folie à deux that stemmed mainly from Leopold’s masochistic infatuation with the more aggressive—and probably psychotic—Loeb, who led his reluctant, bookish lover into an escalating series of crimes, culminating in murder. Clarence Darrow got them off death row; Loeb was killed in a prison fight. Leopold lived to be paroled in 1958. Framing the story with his parole hearing, Dolginoff toys interestingly but unconvincingly with the metaphysics of their affair. Michael Rupert’s spare, dark production, unexcitingly cast, serves the piece efficiently. But it’s hard to know what there is to be so thrilled about.