Outre’ Thrills and Chills in Murder Musical

Reviewed by JW Arnold for South Florida Gay News

Young love can be uplifting and empowering, but for Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, two Chicago teens growing up in the 1920s, their romance would become twisted, a tale of domination and submission and ultimately, murder.

“Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story,” which opened last week in a production by Outre Theatre Company at the Cutural Arts Center in Boca Raton’s Mizner Park, is based on the true story of these men, the so-called “thrill killers” who murdered a young boy in 1924 in order to commit the “perfect crime.”

A 2003 chamber musical with a book, lyrics and contemporary score by Stephen Dolginoff, the story is told in a series of flashbacks, beginning with Leopold’s fifth parole hearing in 1958.

Leopold is seated on a dark, sparsely decorated set dominated by black flats and boxes that will later be reconfigured. As the bright spot comes up on Leopold (Mike Westrich), the parole board (the voices of Oscar Cheda and Sabrina Gore) quizzes the convict. Once again, he lays out the facts of his crime, but the parole board seeks the deeper motivations for participating in “the crime of the century.” But, then it dawns him, this time he could reveal more, perhaps leading to the parole he has sought so many times before.

He recalls reuniting with his childhood friend, Richard Loeb (Conor Walton). Despite the fact they shared an adolescent romance, the Nietzsche reading Loeb, has matured into a cold, calculating sociopath, eager to manipulate his willing acolyte to participate in ever escalating crimes. Loeb only offers his physical affection after Leopold signs a contract — they both ironically dreamed of becoming lawyers — in blood. The price is his contrition, first as they burn a warehouse, later rob a home while the owners sleep and then plot Loeb’s ultimate crime, murder.

Whether unconsciously or not, Leopold loses his glasses at the crime scene and, of course, the expensive imported frames lead the police right to the men. Despite Loeb’s threats, Leopold eventually gives in to the police interrogators and the duo land in the Joliet Prison, surprisingly spared the death penalty, thanks to the cunning strategy of their lawyer, Clarence Darrow.

Westrich first gained widespread notice as the gay prison camp inmate in Island City Stage’s multiple Carbonell Award-winning production of Dan Clancy’s “The Timekeepers” last fall. Again, he offers a nuanced performance, struggling with the moral compromises he is forced to make in order to win Loeb’s approval.

Walton, a veteran of many critically acclaimed Slow Burn Theatre productions, gives a chilling performance as Loeb, perhaps the best of his career. The audience rightly squirms in their seats as each of his increasingly evil plots is hatched with Walton’s sly grin and piercing eyes.

Both are at their best while singing Dolginoff’s alternately soaring and searing melodies. Under the music direction of Kristen Long, who also accompanies on the piano, their voices blend perfectly as Loeb pulls Leopold into each escalating emotional transaction.

Director Skye Whitcomb’s intimate staging is further accentuated by the stark lighting design by Stefanie Howard. Howard brilliantly sets the stage for the flashbacks as Loeb appears in a flash only to disappear into foggy memories. She also recreates the headlights of Loeb’s Packard coupe, putting the audience into the eyes of the bewildered child who would later be murdered and mutilated.

“Thrill Me” is a disturbing show about disturbing subject matter, but in the hands of Westrich, Walton, Whitcomb and the Outre team, it’s also a powerful piece of musical theater that sheds light on a heinous crime that should not be forgotten.

Outre’ Kills It With Bleak, Minimalist True Crime Musical

Review by John Thomason for Florida Theater On Stage

 

Back in 1948, Alfred Hitchcock directed Rope, his most play-like of movies. Set in a single interior location and told in just 10 continuous shots, it was a sustained exercise in audience concentration. Not surprisingly, it was based on a 1929 play by Patrick Hamilton that took its inspiration from the real-life Leopold and Loeb murder case, in which two young men from Chicago slaughtered a 14-year-old boy in 1924, simply for the perverse thrill of doing it.

The heart of Hitchcock’s movie are the exchanges between its thrill-killers/lovers, Leopold and Loeb by any other names, played by John Dall and Farley Granger—both closeted Hollywood homosexuals whose characters’ smoldering onscreen relationship could only be implied, lest the censors have a conniption. By the time James Stewart shows up playing James Stewart, he sucks the oxygen out of the room, and Rope becomes less about unspoken desires and power dynamics of its intellectual murderers, and more about the movie star solving the mystery so we can go home feeling a little less uncomfortable.

For a Leopold and Loeb dramatization whose focus never wavers from exactly where it should be, look no further than Thrill Me, a musical-theater labor of love from triple-threat composer/lyricist/book writer Stephen Dolginoff. Closing out Outre Theatre Company’s 2013-2014 season nine years after its off-Broadway debut, this two-man, one-act musical still has the offbeat immediacy and barebones potency of a feverish fringe festival favorite, and it offers further proof that in Outre’s finest productions, less is more. Fearless direction from Skye Whitcomb and a pair of wildly contrasting but deeply engaged performances from Mike Westrich and Conor Walton translate Dolginoff’s coffin-black vision with demented urgency.

The only flaw in Thrill Me is its unnecessary framing device, which finds Nathan Leopold (Westrich) appealing to the parole board at an Illinois prison for the fifth time. It’s 1958, and we’re about to hear his tale of love and murder and woe and one-upsmanship reiterated in the style of a lazy cinematic flashback. Once you get past this minor dramaturgical hurdle, you’ll largely forget about it and find yourself enthralled by the music and acting.

The plot is as simple as the (uncredited) scenic design, which consists of four movable cubes, a metal folding chair, and a few black panels. Affluent law student Nathan meets homicidal classmate Richard Loeb (Walton) at the University of Chicago and becomes hopelessly smitten. Falling under Richard’s dominant spell, Nathan assists him in a series of increasingly dangerous crimes—committed, per Richard, to prove their “superiority” over the mass of mortals—with Nathan accepting sexual favors and intimations of love in return. Their extralegal adventures culminate in the murder of a teenage boy and the subsequent police investigation that sends them to prison and straight into the annals of pop psychology and morbid public fascination.

The 16closeAn error occurred. solo piano songs, performed beautifully and funereally onstage by music director Kristen Long, resemble Sondheim both in their clever blackness and difficult fluidity, with the actors required to drift in and out of song. Both achieve this without missing a beat.

Dolginoff’s sympathies clearly lie with Nathan Leopold, whom Westrich imbues with the tragic pathos of a wronged man—a victimizer who never stopped being a victim himself, save perhaps for a twist late in the show. The actor’s inherent likeability, which this year has brought out the best in shows ranging from The Plaza Theatre’s Rags to Island City Stage’s Have I Got a Girl For You, goes a long way at providing the emotional, relatable core of this sordid true-crime nightmare.

Walton’s Loeb, meanwhile, is a sheer terror, the show’s unfettered id. Introduced in a rakish black suit to Westrich’s virginal white attire (Sabrina Gore handled the evocative suits, fedoras and prison garb), he first appears as a haunting, low-lit specter. Not until the end of the musical does he express humanlike vulnerability; for the rest of it, Walton is a larger-than-life demon, possessing the hypnotic air of a Machiavellian arch-villain and the vacant eyes of a psychopath, his chest puffed up and his carriage always erect. His performances of “The Plan” (in which he proposes murdering his own brother) and “Roadster” (in which he lures the 14-year-old victim into his car) are as chilling as live theater can be.

The production’s minimalist staging receives a flawless assist from Stefanie Howard’s exceptional lighting scheme. Her work is full of subtle gradations, dangerous beauty (she effectively evokes a flickering fire during an arson scene, illuminating the actors’ faces in varying shades of red and orange) and dramatic punctuation, from the suggestion of a car’s headlights to flashes of bright light for each of the killers’ murderous blows.

Part of the reason the lighting is so noticeable is because the rest of the show is so unceasingly black. Whitcomb deserves ultimate credit for respecting the darkness of this material, and for pushing Walton’s performance to truly frightening extremes. With any luck, this is the sort of show that will haunt your dreams.

Thrill Me: The EDGE Ft. Lauderdale Review

by Kathryn Fores

 

“Thrill Me,” is well, thrilling. Seen in preview this show cannot get much better during its upcoming three-week run. If it is not the best production ever mounted by Outre Theatre Company, next to “The Illiad,” it certainly is in a dead heat for the most outstanding. Congratulations go out to co-producer and director Skye Whitcomb for creating a nearly flawless night of theatre. From the costumes to the lighting and everything in between, this show works and is working it.

The film noir-like lighting and stage pictures, note Loeb’s first dramatic reveal, only serve to create the tone for the rest of the evening. It is purposefully dark, like the subject matter, without ever casting shadows on the actors or failing to illuminate their harrowing facial expressions.

From the harsh lighting in the interrogation scene, Leopold’s parole hearing, to the surprising flickering flashes during the murder scene, lighting designer, Stefanie Howard, has outdone herself. Even the use of two lamps aimed directly at the audience, indicating the roadster/lair into which the fourteen-year-old murder victim is lured, is on point as is the red glow from a warehouse fire.

The costumes are perfect as well. Loeb, the “seeming” sociopath of the duo, dressed in black contrasts sharply with the “innocent” Leopold, who is appareled in soft wheat tones and off white. The costumer and co-producer at Outre, Sabrina Lynn Gore, channels the spirit of the gangster twenties mixed with the leisure of a Jay Gatsby summer suit.

The set is simple. Black flats, with large open spaces in between for the various entrances, predominate. Black boxes suggest the various locations and the furniture. The lone chair onstage is used by Leopold when he is with the parole board and is elevated from the rest of the set on a platform. Whitcomb utilizes the set pieces effectively, and there is never doubt about the locales in the numerous scenes, whether it is Loeb’s bedroom, the park, the police station or a prison cell. Whitcomb’s pacing is excellent and the stage movements seamless.

This is also true for the music. The song lyrics contribute to the story-telling as well and reveal the emotional arcs of the characters. The two performers are accompanied by musical director, Kristen Long, who plays the keyboard and has a keen sense of knowing how to both follow the performer’s singing and reinforce the acting with mostly subtle segues of music, which at times are purposefully jarring.

Mike Westrich as Nathan Leopold is at his best here. He delicately sculpts his performance as carefully as his he did in last year’s “Timekeepers.” Every change in feeling and attitude is written on his face. He is as still as a placid lake yet underneath a seething river of volcanic rock. He is driven by his obsession for Loeb. He will do anything for him, even commit murder. The audience can feel his roiling sexual need; it is that palpable. Even with an IQ on 210, it is not the head on top of his shoulders that motivates Leopold into committing a horrendous crime. His fatal attraction becomes Loeb’s undoing.

For his part, Conor Walton as Loeb is a raging river after a fierce storm. Quixotic and mercurial, having developed a salacious taste for more and more sordid experiences, he is the original adrenaline junkie. Moving from pyromaniac to cat burglar to eventual murderer, he becomes more crazed at time goes on. In one scene in which he ensnares his young victim, he is out and out creepy and his abhorrent desire is clearly manifest. His facial expressions here are almost over the top and strain credulity. What young boy would ever get into the car with this maniac? Pulling back a little from the precipice of insanity and using a more practiced and gentle approach to entice the boy would have had greater impact.

Nevertheless, audience members last night were still enthralled by his villainy. The scene at the warehouse fire is particularly effective in demonstrating Loeb’s unquenchable desire for causing and then witnessing destruction.

What motivates this predilection? Is it his belief that he is untouchable like Friedrich Nietzsche’s superman, which he compares himself to, or is he simply a sociopath, devoid of empathy?

Heard but not seen onstage are Oscar Cheda and Sabrina Gore as members of the parole board as well as Larry Buzzeo as the radio announcer. They are all very effective, as is the sound design by David Hart.

There are no hummable tunes in the show, but the song in which Loeb expresses his desire to kill his brother is a darkly funny take on sibling rivalry and the song “Life Plus Ninety Nine Years” gives full expression to Leopold’s addiction to Loeb. The story and music of “Thrill Me” may not wow you, but the deliberate direction, fascinating characters, fine performances and great production values will knock your socks off.

Outre’s Mr. Marmalade Is An Acquired Taste, Perfect for Savvy Theatergoers

Florida Theater On Stage

Outré’s Mr. Marmalade Is An Acquired Taste, Perfect for Savvy Theatergoers

By Michelle F. Solomon

Cut from the same cloth, in some ways, as the adult friendly cartoon Family Guy, Noah Haidle’s Mr. Marmalade is filled with layers of dark humor, commentary on children losing their innocence and growing up too fast, and a general jab at the state of family affairs these days.

The always adventurous Outré Theater Company in Boca Raton presents Mr. Marmalade, the story of four-year-old Lucy (Laura Ruchala) and her imaginary friend, Mr. Marmalade (Jim Gibbons). He’s not your run of the mill playmate: he’s an older gentleman, a workaholic who must check his schedule to make playdates with Lucy, who has a personal assistant, Bradley (Christopher Mitchell) that shows up  — beaten and battered by the way, presumably by his boss — when Marmalade is otherwise indisposed. Meanwhile, Marmalade has more than a few addictions: cocaine, booze and porn, and probably a few others.

There are non-imaginary, dysfunctional people that dot the landscape of Lucy’s life — no doubt, some of whom have influenced her views. There’s the selfie-taking, sexed-up babysitter, Emily (Brianna Mackey), who offers her own sage advice to Lucy: “Jealousy is not attractive to men,” she tells the toddler. Lucy’s self-involved and neglectful mother, Sookie (Cindy Thagard), brings home one-night stands, and new friend, Larry (Alvaro D’Amico), is a five-year-old who has already been arrested for petty larceny and is the youngest person to attempt suicide in the state of New Jersey after slitting his wrists.

Haidle, in creating child characters (played by adults, by the way) who, like real kids, call it like they see it with no filter, allows his dark humor to be, at times, shocking, but nevertheless honest and intensely imaginative. For those with a certain sense of twisted humor, Marmalade not only delivers laughs, but creates thoughtful social commentary that resonates in these confusing and modern times.

Skye Whitcomb’s direction keeps pace with Haidle’s frenetic vision, yet never goes so far into the wackiness that the playwright’s intentions lose their edge.

The loaded-with-talent cast, especially Ruchala as Lucy, maintain the same thorough understanding, which helps to preserve the many messages that Haidle layers in his script like a stack of hotcakes — everything from Obamacare to pro choice to pedophilia to references to William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.

Ruchala’s Lucy never becomes a caricature, which is a challenge in a role where an adult actor is charged with playing a four-year-old. Dressed in a Minnie Mouse T-shirt and pink tutu and clutching a Disney princess blanket, Lucy looks innocent enough, but Ruchala’s ability to convey the inquisitiveness of a child balanced with Haidle’s dialogue that is more apropos to a 40-year-old, is what creates the foundation for all of the other characters to work. Ruchala has chemistry with each actor put in her path, especially in her interactions with Mitchell as Bradley. They are the perfect duo.

Meanwhile, Mitchell nails Bradley’s television sitcom-type character; he’d be perfect on an episode of How I Met Your Mother. D’Amico is the other standout as Lucy’s playmate, Larry. When he shows up filled with a suitcoat full of junk food and delivers the line in all seriousness, “7-11 was kind to us,” then opens a vintage “1957″ chocolate milk, Larry is lifted off of Haidle’s page and becomes a multi-faceted character.

Gibbons as Marmalade couldn’t have been better cast. He’s smarmy in perfect Marmalade fashion. And when he comes back to Lucy after being in rehab and begins talking about making amends and bonding with a blind sponsor — a former junkie — Marmalade’s dramatic arc couldn’t be more bull. And exactly the depth with which this character should be played.

There are so many perfect nuances in this show, from David Hart’s incredible Mini Pop Kids soundtrack (strange cover tunes of pop songs like “Poker Face” and “Material Girl.” Hart told me that it was another way to convey the theme of the play — when kids sing adult pop song lyrics and they don’t really get the meaning) to Sabrina Gore’s surrealistic, yet contemporary, costuming.

This is a difficult play, in some respects, and isn’t for everyone. Outré Theater Company goes out on a limb for Mr. Marmaladeand for savvy audience members who want to be challenged, it couldn’t be more smartly satisfying.

“The Journey” Interview – BroadwayGlobal

“You Know You Love Theatre When Your Driveway Is Bleeding Paint”

by Richard Cameron

 

BroadwayGlobal sat down to talk to South Florida performer Sabrina Lynn Gore, Director of the original musical, The Journey, and Managing Director at the award winning Outre Theatre Company. We ask Sabrina (on her lunch break) about her day job, Outre‘s brave new show The Journey, and the set Sabrina painted in her own driveway, on that record breaking cold winter weekend, before she goes into full swing rehearsal mode.

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“Much Ado About Nothing” – Around Town

“There’s Much Shakespeare Ado in Mizner Park”

by Jesse Leaf

 

Outré’s Skye Whitcomb obviously loves the Bard. His production of Much Ado About Nothing bristles with life and humanity. Whitcomb doesn’t cringe in fear of the play, shrinking it to a dry and dusty enterprise, as I’ve seen many times. He unabashedly charges forward, his actors mugging here, ad-libbing there. This is the true Shakespeare, Shakespeare the entertainer.

[…]

Whitcomb has moved the play from 16th-century Sicily to 21st-century Venice, like California, ya know. Unlike other attempts at “rejuvenation” of the Bard, the changes are restrained, almost subliminal, and therefore totally absorbed within the fabric of the narrative. Jennipher Murphy’s costuming forms a good part of the play’s circumjacence – so familiar are the Marine Corps tees that the young soldiers wear, and the upscale sportswear of the court-cum-country club set, that we immediately accept them without missing a beat.

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“Much Ado About Nothing” – EDGE Miami

“Much Ado About Nothing”

by Kathryn Ryan

 

No pun intended; but, it is worth noting that some Shakespearean scholars believe the right title of”Much Ado About Nothing” is really “Much Ado About Noting.” Like its predecessor, “Comedy of Errors,” it is a play about mistaken identity, or incorrect noting. It is this lack of recognition that propels the plot forward.

The masked ball in the play is the perfect backdrop for this confusion of identities. Benedict, unable to see through Beatrice’s disguise, becomes the butt of her insults. The villain, Don John, tricks both his half-brother Don Pedro and Claudio, fiancé of Hero, into believing they are seeing Hero at the window in the arms of another. In fact, what they are actually seeing is Don Jon’s sidekick, Boracchio, making love to Hero’s maid, Margaret.

Perhaps the most notable lack of noting, again sorry for the pun, is that the romantic couple at the center of the play can’t recognize how perfectly suited they are for one another. The others’ attempts to bring them together constitute some of the funniest scenes in the play.

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“BBAJ” Is A Bloody Bloody Blast

“Not At All For Everyone, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson Is A Bloody Bloody Blast”

by Bill Hirschman

 

Outré Theatre Company staged a concert version of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson this past weekend at Mizner Park to see whether the fledgling company could pull off the logistics and to ask the audience whether they want to see a full production.

Count this as the first enthusiastic “yes.”

To say that Bloody is not to everyone’s taste is an understatement. Profusely profane, wildly anarchic and angrily irreverent in extremis, Bloody is, as Artistic Director Skye Whitcomb warned the audience Sunday, “180 degrees from The Sound of Music” up the road at The Wick.

Ostensibly a biography of our seventh president, the satire is a punkish Emo take on this country’s bottomless hubristic pursuit of Manifest Destiny via a genocidal campaign against the American Indians. It draws parallels to broader modern American know-nothing arrogance exemplified by, but not limited to, the George W. Bush Administration and the rise of the Tea Party. By reimagining Jackson as a jingoistic not-too-bright rock star, it depicts politicians as shallow as celebrities for a mob that demands substance from neither.

The show is no kinder to the populace than the politicians. The voters are ignorant sheep led wherever a demagogue wants to take them. Even when Jackson deigns to asks the people’s opinion, they have no idea what issues he’s polling them about.

The style is intentionally over the top in every category from the melodramatic acting to the Green Day brand of music. Much of the humor is beyond sophomoric; it’s intentionally dumber than aSaturday Night Live skit. Faced with the red tape of the bureaucracy, Jackson proclaims, “I’m federal Metamucil; I’m here to unclog the system.”

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“Tick, Tick … Boom” slaps the hands of time

By Rod Stafford Hagwood

The musical “Tick, Tick … Boom!” gets an outrageously good workout by the Outre Theatre Company in Boca Raton.

The blazing talent of the cast and brisk direction by Skye Whitcomb turn what could have been a series of cliches into a smart and smooth production that moves with purpose through about 90 minutes with no intermission, hitting just about every sweet spot in the script along the way.

Read the rest of the review here.

 

If you loved ‘Rent’ see ‘tick tick BOOM!” in Boca Raton at Outre Theatre Company

by Richard Cameron from The Examiner

South Florida Theatre lovers now is your chance to see Jonathan Larson’s “tick tick BOOM! ” Any musical theatre student or theatre lover who knows “Rent‘ should see the very first musical that really inspired “Rent“! Outre Theatre Company’s mission states theatre should be raw, visceral, thought-provoking and action-inducing, well they are right on point with there brave new choices in musicals, that have not been shared with Florida theatre audiences.

Read the rest of the review here