In 1924, law students Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb went on a crime spree, committing larceny, arson and finally murder. They were privileged kids, partial to Nietzsche and possibly each other, and their story captivated Chicago. Patrick Hamilton wrote a taut play, 'Rope', about it and in 2003 Stephen Dolginoff wrote a hit off-Broadway musical about it, which Climar Productions have brought to London.
Macabre murder musicals aren’t new but they work best as camp, overblown affairs. The most successful, such as ‘Sweeney Todd’, luxuriate in the blood but don’t dig too deep. The trouble with Guy Retallack’s production, set against a misty half-light and prison-like lattice, is that it’s stuck between a gleeful gore-fest and something more complex.
Loeb (George Maguire) and Leopold (Jye Frasca) are not cardboard cut-out villains yet the soaring music, composed by Stephen Dolginoff, often makes them seem so. Maguire and Frasca have strong, Broadway-friendly, voices but the easy harmonies and rhymes frequently undermine their sophisticated performances.
The song that hits hardest is ‘Roadster’ – a disarmingly charming number, used to lure a young boy to his death. As Maguire, with his china-white face and crystal-clear voice, croons sweet nothings to his invisible victim, the music and content combine to thrilling effect.