Crime is in right now. True crime docudramas, gritty murder mysteries, courtroom and police thrillers – it’s all over Netflix and primetime TV. But in theatre, it’s perhaps less ubiquitous. Particularly productions like Thrill Me, Stephen Dolginoff’s ambitious and eerie crime musical.
Thrill Me is essentially the story of two men, each as psychopathic and unlikeable as the other. Nathan (Bart Lambert) is needy and snivelling, desperate for affection. His lover, Richard (Jack Reitman) is arrogant and unhinged, desperate for excitement. When the two men sign a contract that binds them together as lovers and partners in crime, their world and relationship begins to unravel around them.
Lambert and Reitman are both assured performers. Lambert in particular transitions effortlessly between the younger and older versions of his character and both achieve the difficult task of making two very flawed characters compelling onstage. Dolginoff gives them little to work with – Richard is appalling, Nathan weak – but Lambert and Reitman masterfully draw the audience in.
The world of these two young men is brought to life in Rachel Ryan’s clever and accomplished set. Although onstage the set is fairly simple and versatile, around the walls and at the back of the stage there is a level of detail and coherency often missing in Fringe shows. Ryan really leans into the aesthetic of the theatre space, and the result is a complete world that feels entirely absorbing.
Unfortunately for this new musical, it is the music that let it down. The first couple of songs (Everybody Wants Richard and Nothing Like a Fire) are interesting, atmospheric, memorable – even if the harmonies present a few challenges in places. But after them follows an hour’s worth of tired numbers, not one of which sounds remotely different from the songs that precede and follow it. The lyrics never stray far from the realm of the obvious and although Lambert and Reitman deliver confident vocal performances, they cannot quite overcome the thought that perhaps as a straight drama, Thrill Me would have been even stronger.