Thrill-killers Leopold & Loeb tried to commit the crime of the century, which led to their executions but also a certain unfortunate immortality. Alfred Hitchcock captured them in the film Rope (based on a play by Patrick Hamilton), and the films Compulsion and Swoon also covered the headline-grabbing trial.
The latest play about the murder is John Logan's Never The Sinner, which won a Jeff Award for Outstanding New Play when it ran at Chicago's Victory Gardens Theatre in 1995. The show is now in a commercial open run in New York, with new blocks of tickets onsale through May 24. The current mounting is by Washington DC's Signature Theatre, which first transferred to NY's American Jewish Theatre Nov. 30, 1997 (previews began Nov. 22). After an extended run (to Jan. 4), the show moved again to its current venue, the John Houseman Theatre (recent home of Mere Mortals), reopening Jan. 24.
Ethan McSweeney (Fixin' To Die) directs the mounting, which stars Michael Solomon as Richard Loeb and Jason Patrick Bowcutt as Nathan Leopold. Robert Hogan plays defense attorney Clarence Darrow. Aslo in the cast are Jurian Hughes, Paul Mullins, Howard Overshown and Glen Pannelli.
Designing the show are David Maddox (sound), Lou Stancari (set), Tom Broeker (costumes) (Heidi Alexander did the costumes at AJT), and Howell Binkley (lighting).
[With grim humor, publicity material for the show notes that Never The Sinner is "the one about teenage killers who are not being musicalized this season" -- a sly reference to Broadway's The Capeman about repentant murderer/poet, Salvador Agron.] On a less grisly note, Never The Sinner is another addition to the boomlet of shows with Jewish themes on and Off-Broadway. On Broadway, David Mamet's The Old Neighborhood looks at nostalgia, resignation and bitterness through the eyes of middle-aged Chicago Jews.
On Nov. 21, The Diary Of Anne Frank returned to Broadway, directed by James Lapine and starring Natalie Portman. The production has received attention for being both darker than the original and more authentic in the characters' Jewishness. Now at Club Expo (renamed the Kit Kat Klub) is a revival of Cabaret, which features an elderly Jewish couple; and at the Martin Beck Theatre The Sound of Music also takes place in the Nazi era.
Ragtime has a major Jewish character in Tateh, while this year's Tony winner, The Last Night Of Ballyhoo, studies class antagonism within the Southern Jewish community. Neil Simon's recent Proposals wasn't particularly Jewish, but the revival of his Sunshine Boys sure is.
Off-Broadway, the Jewish revue, That's Life!, continues at Theatre East. Also, the American Jewish Theatre, producer of Sinner, will continue its season with Hot Klezmer, a revue featuring clarinetist Harold Seletsky and singer Hal Jefron. Michael Leeds (Swingin' On A Star) directs Ellis Berger, Mary Feinsinger, Zohar Fresco, Signitzer Krajicek, Avram Pengas, Shoshanna and Peter Stan in the musical. Designing Hot Klezmer are Bruce Goodrich (set), Jeff Croiter (lighting) and Raymond Schilke (sound). The show begins previews March 7 for a March 19 opening.
Other Jewish-themed Off-Broadway shows? Eli Wallach plays an Orthodox Jew coming to terms with his daughter's intermarriage in Visiting Mr. Green at the Union Square Theatre. At Manhattan Theatre Club, Jon Robin Baitz's Mizlansky-Zilinsky looks at has-been producers who try to ignore the anti-Semitic asides of a client in the interest of closing a deal.
Last but not least, there's the continuing run (though "Last Weeks" are being advertised) of the campy farce, Grandma Sylvia's Funeral, whose characters make Leopold and Loeb look like oases of sanity and wisdom.
For tickets and information on Never The Sinner at the John Houseman Theatre and Hot Klezmer at the AJT, call (212) 633-9797.
-- By David Lefkowitz