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A very bloody Valentine, based on fact, at Theatre Alliance

by Mark Burger

Winston-Salem’s Theatre Alliance celebrates Valentine’s Day in inimitable fashion with its production of the chilling musical Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story, which opens — appropriately enough — this Friday the 13Contributing columnist th at Theatre Alliance, 1047 Northwest Blvd., Winston-Salem. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were students at the University of Chicago and fast friends, each one an intellectual prodigy and each one convinced that their intelligence placed them above the mainstream proletariat. To prove this, they successfully committed minor crimes and got away with them. In the spring of 1924, the two men embarked on their most ambitious “endeavor” — trying to commit the perfect murder. Their victim was 14-year-old Bobby Franks, a distant relative of Loeb’s. The actual case was described at the time as “the crime of the century,” and the basis of the term “thrill killers” can trace its derivation to this very case. They killed for the thrill of it, merely to see if they could get away with it. Of course, they didn’t…. The case was a major international sensation, inspiring articles, books, plays and movies — Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope and Richard Fleischer’s Compulsion being two of the most noteworthy. But, unlike Thrill Me, they couldn’t use the actual character’s names and most certainly didn’t boast a full slate of songs. Thrill Me does, encapsulating a time and a place and a crime. This is a musical dramatization of the murder, as well as a penetrating exploration of the complex (and very likely psycho-sexual) relationship between Leopold and Loeb. Stephen Dolginoff wrote the music, lyrics and book, basing much of the material on elements from the actual case… as well as incorporating the sort of creative speculation best known as “creative license.” The original production of Thrill Me first opened in 2003, before making its hugely successful off-Broadway debut two years later. It earned Drama Desk Award nominations for best musical and musical score, and an Outer Circle Critics’ Award nomination for best off- Broadway musical.

The Theatre Alliance production is directed by Jamie Lawson, who also plays Leopold to Bryan Daniel’s Loeb. The show will be presented at 8 p.m. Feb. 13-14 and 19-21, and 2 p.m. Feb. 22. Tickets are $16 (general admission) and $14 (senior citizens and students with valid ID). Group rates are also available, and reservations are suggested. Due to the subject matter, Thrill Me is recommended for mature audiences. Unlike the next item in this column, this is not a show for young children. For tickets or more information, call 336.723.7777 or check out www.wstheatrealliance.org

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For a theatrical experience that’s a little more familyfriendly but equally musical, the Children’s Theatre of Winston-Salem will celebrate Black History Month with a special presentation of Songs from the Soul, a musical revue commemorating African-American culture. Showtimes are 10 a.m. and noon Thursday, Feb. 26, in the Arts Council Theatre (610 Coliseum Drive, W-S). This production from the award-winning Theatre IV of Richmond, Va. encompasses songs from the era of slavery to the jazz and blues classics of the early 20 th century, right up to the rap and hip-hop favorites of the contemporary era. Through these songs and the messages they contain, Songs from the Soul offers a message of pride, responsibility and respect while also illuminating the considerable impact that African-American culture has had on music, and will undoubtedly continue to have in the 21 st century. For over 30 years, Theatre IV has been touring throughout the nation, providing a vast array of traveling presentations for young audiences (and grown-ups, too!). During this year, it is expected that Theatre IV productions will reach an audience of 500,000 children. Last year, Bruce Miller and Phil Whiteway (the founders of Theatre IV) shared the Governor’s Award for the Arts 2008, as presented by Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine. Miller, still the artistic director of Theatre IV, this year received the Leadership in Arts Instruction Award from the Virginia Board of Education and the Commission for the Arts. Tickets for Songs from the Soul are $8 (general admission), and reservations are strongly suggested. (Children’s Theatre productions have a tendency to sell out.)

For more information, call 336.725.4531 or see www.childrenstheatrews.com

To comment on this story, e-mail Mark Burger at marksburger@yahoo.com.

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