This moody musical, written in the early 2000's by New Yorker Stephen Dolginoff, is based on a true story – the 1924 murder of a 14-year-old boy in Chicago, by two privileged law students attempting to commit the "perfect crime".
The story opens in 1958, many years after the murder, at Nathan Leopold's fifth parole hearing. Leopold sits on a chair, while the omniscient parole board – pre-recorded voices that echo around the theatre – demand to know why Leopold and Loeb committed the crime. Leopold answers, of course, with a song, taking the action back to 1924 where the two men meet up after a prolonged absence.
It quickly becomes clear that the power dynamic between the two is heavily in Richard Loeb’s favour. He is deliberately cruel and dismissive of Leopold’s infatuation with him – "Everybody wants Richard," he sings – and transfers schools to force a separation between the two. Inspired by Nietzsche, he is convinced of his own superiority and that he need not be bound by society's ethics and morality.
But in reality, he needs Leopold to help him with his illegal thrill-seeking. The pivotal scene, when the two start a fire in an abandoned warehouse, is effectively captured with orange lights and a crackling backing track. It's here that the seeds are sown for their eventual downfall, as the two enter into a disturbing "written contract", where Leopold will assist Loeb in committing crimes and Loeb will satisfy Leopold’s sexual desires.
All of the music is provided by a live pianist, and this stripped-back simple style lends focus to Dolginoff's lyrics. The singing is well performed by both of the leads, Ellis Dackombe as Richard Loeb and Harry Downes as Nathan Leopold. Particular highlights include the aforementioned A Written Contract, and My Glasses / Just Lay Low, detailing their worries of being caught after committing the murder.
The set also fits the stripped-back aesthetic, framed as a simple room with the piano in a recess. With only a chair and a bed-frame to rely on, the mood is largely created by blue lighting and spots, combined with an efficient use of effects.
The relationship dynamic between Leopold and Loeb is fascinating, and is brilliantly realised in this atmospheric musical take on the "crime of the century". Highly recommended.