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Area theater premieres musical based on a true life murder

We must never take for granted the many treasures that are part of our local theater scene. Consider that in our community we have Clague Playhouse which operates October through May, and Huntington Playhouse that has a summer season as well as a holiday show. These are both “community theaters,” non-professional theaters at which performers are not paid and artistic staff are minimally compensated. As might be expected with casts of volunteers, quality can vary from show to show. At the professional level, many of our readers are longtime subscribers to the Broadway Series at Playhouse Square. The “clout” that Cleveland has with producers of touring shows is strong. That we are the largest theater complex in the country after New York’s Lincoln Center helps as well.

I am lucky in that I can revel in the riches of the professional and community theater scenes. Separate from the above categories are local theaters that consistently deliver professional results. One of my favorites is Convergance-Continuum Theater. Located on Scranton Road, within a few blocks of the varied restaurants of Cleveland’s Tremont area, “con-con” demonstrates daring creativity in its choice of plays. The theater produces shows that we generally will not see anywhere else. My experience is that four out of five times I’ve been delighted with the productions. The fifth time is either an excellent cast struggling with a problematic script, or a weaker cast contending with an intriguing script.

Convergence-Continuum is breaking new ground with its current production of “Thrill Me.” This is the theater’s first production of a musical. The show is not “Guys and Dolls,” however.  It is based on a real-life murder and the stranger-than-fiction relationship between the murderers. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb grew up near each other at the turn of the 20th century, but never met until they were students at the University of Chicago. Both were brilliant and graduated from high school at age 15. Nathan spoke 14 languages, wrote scholarly articles for birding journals, and was destined to Harvard Law School. Richard, equally brilliant, was a party loving frat boy and also accepted to Law School. These two young men committed a seemingly senseless murder of a young boy and were defended by Clarence Darrow who saved them from hanging and got them 99 year sentences.

“Thrill Me” focuses on the obsessive relationship between Leopold and Loeb as well as on their attempt to commit “the perfect crime.” The story is told in flashbacks, as the “present” of the story is 1958.  The Con-Con production features consistently excellent performers Zak Hudak and Mike Majer as the brilliant students. Clyde Simon directs and Anthony Ruggerio is the musical director. Director Simon includes program notes that are “the facts” of the men and their murder, and explains that the musical is speculation on the evolution of the crime as well as the evolution of the relationship between the two men.  “Thrill Me” was premiered in 2003, had an off-Broadway production in 2005, and since has been produced in Los Angeles, Germany, Korea, Australia and Japan. This is the first local production of the show. The script, music, and 16 songs were written by Stephen Dolginoff. Not for everyone, “Thrill Me” runs through June 8. The theater for Convergence Continuum is The Liminis at 2438 Scranton Road. Reservations and information is at 216 687-0074 or at www.convergence-continuum.org.

Zak Hudak and Mike Majer are teenage murderers in the Convergence Continuum Theater production of "Thrill Me". (photo courtesy of Convergence Continuum)

 

 

 

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