Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, the notorious "thrill killers" of 1924, got their thrills not only from a series of crimes that culminated with the murder of a 13-year-old boy, but also from each other's bodies. This point, while downplayed in past Leopold and Loeb dramatizations (including Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 film Rope), is made abundantly clear in Stephen Dolginoff's one-act musical Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story, now on stage at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.
The physicality of their relationship fueled the physicality of Leopold and Loeb's kidnapping and murder of young Bobby Franks. As portrayed in Thrill Me, the two privileged University of Chicago law students hungered for each other and hungered to commit the perfect crime.
Thrill Me is a fast-moving, artfully staged character portrait of the two thrill killers. The lean, glowering Loeb (Scott Nickley) appears to be the mastermind and chief manipulator, but as the story unfolds, we learn that bespectacled Leopold (Michael Parrot) is not the neurotic dupe he seems to be. Under the direction of Bret Young, Nickley and Parrot inhabit a stage that's mostly free of props with a brooding, desperate energy. Neither is a particularly impressive singer, but the show's score really doesn't call for any vocal virtuosity, and the solo-piano accompaniment makes the proceedings almost a dark cabaret. As grim as the subject matter is, Thrill Me comes with its share of one-liners, and laughter often rang from the audience on opening night. We sometimes laugh at what scares us, and these were two seriously scary dudes.
As for Dolginoff's score, the title song and the sinister "Superior" are standouts, but you don't expect a showstopper in Thrill Me and you don't get one.
Notable in this production is the choreography of Michael Mizerany, who moves the actors across and around the small stage with the restless passion that must have resided in the dark souls of Leopold and Loeb.
A historical footnote, one that is addressed at the end of the play: Leopold and Loeb eventually got life plus 99 years for the boy's murder. Leopold was paroled in 1958. Loeb was killed by a fellow prisoner and never again tasted freedom.
Thrill Me runs through May 25 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.
9 to 5: the Musical: An adaptation of the 1980 film, with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, about three women who scheme to get even with their boorish boss. Opens May 9 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.com
100 Hours of Stories: The folks at Lamb's Players Theatre plan to break a record by reading plays and singing songs from musicals for five days without stopping. Runs from 6 p.m. on May 8 through 10 p.m. on May 12. Drop in at any time and give a donation at the door. Get the full schedule at lambsplayers.org.
Annie Get Your Gun: Sharpshooters Annie Oakley and Frank Butler romance each other amid an attempted merger between Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Pawnee Bill's Far East shows. Presented by San Diego Musical Theatre, it opens May 9 at the North Park Theatre. sdmt.org
Chasing the Song: A young, female songwriter hits the maledominated American pop-music scene in the early 1960s just as the British Invasion is starting to change everything. Opens May 13 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org
The Clean House: The story of a woman, her maid who doesn't like cleaning houses and her husband who falls in love with another woman who's dying of cancer. Opens May 9 at PowPAC in Poway. powpac.org
The Enchantment of Beauty and the Beast: A musical adaptation of the French fairy tale. Presented by Looking Glass Theatre, it runs May 9 through 17 at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Hillcrest. lookingglasssd.blogspot.com
Three Sisters: In this acclaimed play by Anton Chekhov, four siblings from Moscow live unsatisfying lives in a small Russian town after the death of their military-officer father. Presented by the UCSD Theatre and Dance department, it runs May 9 through 17 at the Theodore and Adele Shank Theatre on campus. theatre.ucsd.edu
Things My Mother Taught Me: A comedy about a young couple, who relocate from New York to Chicago and move in together for the first time, and their parents, who show up unexpectedly to help them get settled. Through May 11 at Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
Water by the Spoonful: The life of an Iraq War veteran intersects with those of four strangers in an Internet chat room for recovering drug addicts. Through May 11 at The Old Globe Theatre. oldglobe.org
Passion: Ion Theatre closes its eighth season with this Stephen Sondheim musical about a 19th-century soldier caught between his affair with a married woman and a mentally troubled woman's love for him. Through May 17 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure: In this adaptation by Steven Dietz, the famous detective is at the end of his career but is drawn into one last case. Through May 18 at Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
Old Jews Telling Jokes: A comedy revue featuring five actors paying homage to classic jokes, inspired by a website of the same name. Through May 25 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. lyceumevents.org
Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story: A musical based on the true 1924 story of two young men who murdered a young boy for the thrill of it. Through May 25 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org
Mud Blue Sky: A teenage pot dealer on his way home from the prom ends up in a Chicago hotel room with three veteran flight attendants in this funny drama about making ends meet. Through June 8 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. moxietheatre.com
Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net