Richard Loeb: When I discovered that I am a textbook Superman.
A two-man musical by Stephen Dolginoff, based on the real-life teenage "thrill killers" Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, who murdered a twelve-year-old boy in 1924 Chicago pretty much just to prove that they could. The story is told by Leopold at his parole hearing years later, as he attempts to show the parole board that he was only going along with Loeb, his lover and best friend. (The real Leopold was successful in his attempt to be released, as he is in the end of the show, and lived an uneventful life as a florist after marrying a woman on the outside.) Three cast recordings have been released.
The score is notable for its sparseness—two singers and a piano, though the piano arrangement was made more delicate and complex for the 2006 production. This remains the official version.
This work includes examples of:
- Abhorrent Admirer: Richard pretends Nathan is this, but that's thoroughly subverted by the time they sing, "There's Nothing Like a Fire".
- Abusive Parents: Richard's father blatantly prefers his younger son. It's implied that this is at least in part due to homophobia.
- Affably Evil: Nathan. Richard is this to Nathan only - everyone else gets Faux Affably Evil.
- Ambiguously Bi: Richard. We find out in "Everybody Wants Richard" that he sleeps with women as well as with Nathan, but we never get confirmation if this is genuine bisexuality or just Richard trying to conceal the fact that he's queer.
- Anguished Declaration of Love:Richard (reluctantly): ...I...I screw up without you.
Richard: I screw up without you, okay!
Nathan: ...You never said you needed me before.
- Arc Words: "Superior".
- Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: See Anguished Declaration of Love.
- Beware the Superman: The motive for murder is, roughly, "We felt like it. Anyway, why should these rules apply to us?"
- Bittersweet Ending: Do you like Nathan? He got paroled, but who knows how well he's going to be able to start on the outside. Do you like Nathan not so much? He got paroled.
- Blood Brothers: Nathan and Richard sign a contract in blood per Richard's instruction, and then Nathan clasps Richard's hand while they're still bleeding to seal the deal.
- Break the Haughty: Richard. Compare the Smug Snake of "Superior" and "The Plan" to the terrified, beaten man of "Afraid" and "Life Plus 99 Years."
- Broken Ace: Richard. He's so handsome that Even the Guys Want Him, charismatic, affluent, intelligent enough to graduate university before he's even in his twenties and implied to be the Big Man on Campus when he's there. But he's a mess of self-loathing, Parental Issues and internalised homophobia and he channels these feelings into violence and sadism.
- BSoD Song: "Afraid", when Richard's shrunken conscience finally kicks in and he has a severe Freak Out.
- Cain and Abel: Richard's original plan is to kill his brother John. He has a frightening number of possible methods already under consideration, including "make it look like rape".
- Chekhov's Gun: Nathan's glasses. They're the reason the boys get caught.
- Conveniently Cellmates: Lampshaded and subverted.
- Didn't See That Coming: In a case of unknown knowns, Richard doesn't plan for the fact that Nathan could turn him in.
- Dissonant Serenity: Richard, a lot of the time.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: It is theoretically possible to sing "Roadster" solely as charm hiding menace, and not make it sound like a seduction. It's conceivable that some performer has even done so.
- Dogged Nice Guy: Nathan loves to present himself as this. He acts this way through the whole show, though the clearest example is in "Everybody Wants Richard", where he reminds Richard that even though Richard's fully capable of manipulating other people into going along with him, he's the only one who can keep up (see: Pair the Smart Ones).
- Double Standard: Rape, Male on Male: Subverted. Nathan pressurising a clearly unwilling Richard into sex in "Thrill Me" is extremely disturbing.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Hinted at. When Richard proposes that they kill his brother John, one of the reasons Nathan uses to convince him otherwise is: "You could never face your mother." We never actually meet her, so it's hard to say whether or not this trope is in effect.
- Even the Guys Want Him: Richard, according to Nathan.
- Evil Gloating: About 75% of everything Richard says is gloating about being "superior." It's part of what makes it so, so satisfying when we find out Nathan screwed him over.
- Evil Is Petty: Richard's reasons for wanting to kill his brother? Getting the bigger room, getting a bigger inheritance, and so his brother won't touch his stuff.
- Final Love Duet: "Life Plus 99 Years" is a fittingly twisted version.
- Foregone Conclusion: Richard and Nathan murder a kid, get caught, and go to jail. And if you know your history, then you also know that Nathan gets paroled and Richard is murdered in prison.
- For the Evulz/It Amused Me: Richard's motive for killing the kid is essentially, "I'm bored, I'm better than everyone, and I can get away with it, so why not?"
- Freak Out:
- Richard in "Afraid."
- Nathan gets one a bit earlier in "Superior." While Richard is gloating over their superiority and their crime, Nathan is basically saying, "What the hell did we just do?!"
- The Ghost: Everyone who's not named Richard Loeb or Nathan Leopold.
- Inferiority Superiority Complex: Richard's entire characterisation. His academic overachieving and delusions of Nietzschean superhumanity are how he deals with his internalised homophobia and the fact that his parents blatantly favour his younger brother. The 'superiority' part diminishes over the course of the play.
- Ironic Echo: "You're scaring me!" / "Am I scaring you?"
- Karma Houdini: Nathan, depending on whether or not you think over thirty years in prison before being paroled and the man he's in love with being murdered was punishment enough. He is the less monstrous of the two boys, but that doesn't change the fact that he helped murder a kid.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Not only does Richard go to prison, he's murdered while he's locked up. Not to mention, the man he's been manipulating the whole show has been manipulating him.
- A Lighter Shade of Black: Invoked and ultimately subverted. Both boys are eminently screwed up, but Nathan is presented as merely hapless and troubled, and seems a lot like just a desperate, needy teenager who probably just could have benefited from a few generous heaps of therapy; while Richard is played as pure charismatic sociopath, except for being unnervingly childish and unable to show much emotion beyond fear and giddy joy when he's not being frighteningly calm. This is because Nathan is the one telling the story, and he's an Unreliable Narrator with a vested interest in portraying himself as this to ensure that he gets parole. Ultimately, Nathan is just as bad as Richard... and even more cunning about it.
- Longer-Than-Life Sentence: "Life plus ninety-nine years", to be exact.
- Love Makes You Crazy: Both of them are rather worryingly obsessed with each other, a point emphasized by the two-person cast.
- Love Makes You Evil: Nathan's in love with Richard, Richard wants to commit crimes. Cue steady escalation of crimes...
- Love Martyr: Nathan will do anything for Richard. Including landing them both in jail so they can be together forever.
- Manipulative Bastard: Richard spends the whole show playing on Nathan's love for him to get him to be his accomplice. And it turns out that Nathan was fully aware of this and had planned ahead, effectively manipulating him. When Richard realizes he's been had, all he can say is this:"...You son of a bitch."
- The Masochism Tango: The show is largely about Richard and Nathan getting themselves and each other into worse and worse situations, and neither of them wanting to end the relationship.
- Minimalist Cast: We only ever see Richard and Nathan onstage.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Nathan has this mere minutes after the murder. Richard doesn't get it until he's in jail.
- Out-Gambitted: Nathan's been acting like he's been going along with the plan, but in fact had been setting it up according to his own goals all along.
- Our Love Is Different: The entirety of "Everybody Wants Richard" is Nathan trying to convince Richard—and possibly himself—that this is the case.
- Outlaw Couple: They're in a sexual relationship and they murdered a kid.
- Pair the Smart Ones: How did they end up together? They graduated college at 19; no one else could keep up.
- Pet the Dog: After treating Nathan as an Abhorrent Admirer for the first few scenes, during "There's Nothing Like A Fire" Richard caves in and makes it clear to Nathan how attracted he is to him."There's nothing like the glow of sizzling embers... to brighten your face."
- Psychopathic Manchild: Richard, when he's in crime-planning mode.
- Queer Romance: Nathan and Richard don't have the healthiest relationship, but it certainly is a relationship.
- Ripped from the Headlines: As mentioned, this is based on the thrill killers case.
- Sexy Discretion Shot: Richard and Nathan get as far as stating explicitly that they're about to have sex, but the lights always shift before it happens.
- Slap-Slap-Kiss: "Everybody Wants Richard" is frequently staged like this, and culminates in Nathan grabbing Richard and kissing him.
- Smart People Wear Glasses: Nathan
- Smug Snake: Richard
- Straw Nihilist: The boys' crimes are inspired by their love of Nietzsche's works and consider themselves supermen.
- Teens Are Monsters
- There Are No Therapists: Not that one would've done much good for Richard, but Nathan certainly could've benefited.
- Together in Death: Referenced. Nathan would've been fine with getting the death penalty, so long as he and Richard were together.
- Tragic Villain: Nathan paints himself at this, and does appear to honestly have gotten caught up in Richard.
- Unrelated in the Adaptation: The musical doesn't mention that Bobby Franks was Richard's second cousin in real life, or that they even knew each other prior to the murder. In fact, their families were fairly close and were neighbors. Knowing that does answer the question of why Bobby didn't think anything of accepting a ride from him... not to mention make Richard's actions even worse.
- Unspoken Plan Guarantee: You know they're not going to get away with killing the kid; they talk about it too much. (Not to mention the show starts with Nathan in prison, and, you know, they didn't get away with it in real life.) Nathan's hidden plan goes fine, though.
- Unwitting Pawn: Richard thinks everything's going according to his plan, though with a few mishaps. Nathan knows otherwise.
- Villain Love Song: Nathan's interested in Richard who's turned on by crime, so Richard sings about crime and sex with Nathan in "There's Nothing Like a Fire", "A Written Contract", "Superior", and "Keep Your Deal with Me". Richard also tends to just sing this way—he isn't even vaguely interested in Bobby (who's twelve in this musical), but it's hard to hear "Roadster" as anything but a seduction.
- Villain Song: Everything in the score after "Everybody Wants Richard", and especially "Roadster."
- Villainous Breakdown: In "Afraid", Richard realizes his best option is life in prison as a child murderer, and becomes gradually more distraught.
- Villainous Friendship: Nathan is Richard's accomplice, and they're certainly something, though how much of that is friendship/lovers and how much is manipulation is left up in the air for most of the show.
- Villainous Lament: Again in "Afraid", Richard's alone in a cell actually thinking over what he's done, and realizes he can't actually justify it.
- Wham Line: In the finale, Nathan hits us with several in a row. Also In-Universe Wham Lines for Richard.Nathan: After all, I did stay one step ahead of you.
Richard: But... you dropped your glasses, if you hadn't dropped them, we wouldn't have—
Nathan: Don't you get it? I dropped them on purpose.
Richard: You wanted to get caught?
Richard: But I talked you out of your deal!
Nathan: Exactly like I knew you would!
Richard: What if we got the death penalty?
Nathan: As long as we were together?
Richard: This is crazy!
Nathan: Am I scaring you?
Richard: ...You son of a bitch.
- Whole Episode Flashback: The story is narrated by Nathan years later.
- Wretched Hive: Richard sees Chicago as one of these, and figures they won't get caught because there are loads of other criminals that can be blamed for the murder. He's wrong about the second part, but Chicago was monstrously corrupt and crime-ridden in the Prohibition era. (See Public Enemies, Chicago, and The Untouchables (1987).)
- Xanatos Gambit: Richard keeps acting like he's pulling one of these. In the last scene, Nathan reveals he pulled one to get them put in prison together—after all, they were either together for life in prison, or together in death.
- You Are Worth Hell: Richard convinces Nathan that he's worth prison or death in "Keep Your Deal with Me".