In the last two years, American television, radio, and podcasts have produced cult hits revolving around true crime stories of murder. WBEZ Chicago Public Radio’s “Serial” podcast, HBO’s “The Jinx,” and Netflix’s “Making of a Murderer” have all become common topics for friends and strangers to discuss in public. Our attraction and obsession with murder pre-dates the written word.
Musicals are no stranger to true crime stories. Here are seven musicals that have tipped their creative hats to true crime narratives.
7: Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story
Book, Music, and Lyrics: Stephen Dolginoff
The musical opens with Nathan “Babe” Leopold at his parole hearing in 1958 for his participation (along with Richard Loeb) in the 1924 murder of Robert Franks.
Clip Below: October 2013 Production Highlight Reel
6. Charles Manson: Summer of Hate — The Musical
Written By: Stefan Pucher
Co-Written Credits: Christopher Uhe and Susanne Meister(dramaturg)
The production is “a musical trip between LA and Death Valley” with the notorious cult leader Charles Manson.
Clip Below: Thalia Theatre of Hamburg Germany
5: The Capeman
Written By: Paul Simon and Derek Walcott
(Yes, THAT Paul Simon)
A musical unfolding of convicted murderer Salvador Agron, a Puerto Rican gang member accused of murdering two teenagers in Hell’s Kitchen.
Clip Below: Behind the scenes documentary about Agron and “The Capeman”
4: Bonnie & Clyde
Lyrics: Don Black Music: Frank Wildhorn Book: Ivan Menchell
A musical set during the great depression that centers around the ill-fated outlaws and lovers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.
Clip Below: OBC Recording “Dying Ain’t So Bad”
Lyrics: Jason Robert Brown Music: Jason Robert Brown Book: Alfred Uhry
Opening on Confederate Memorial Day, 1913, Mary Phagan is found murdered in the basement of a pencil factory in Atlanta, GA. Leo Frank, the manager of the pencil factory is accused of the crime.
Personal Note: Parade is the first musical I ever worked as a dramaturg on. If you are a “Serial” fan, I highly recommend unpacking this musical. – Rebecca
Clip Below: 1999 Tony Nominee Performance
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim Music: Stephen Sondheim Book: John Weidman
A murderous carnival game unravels to tell the backstories of the men and women who attempted (be it successfully or not) to assassinate Presidents of the United States.
Clip Below: 2004 Tony (Revival) Nominee Performance
Lyrics: Fred Ebb Music: John Kander Book: Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse
A musical retelling of journalist Maurine Dallas Watkins’ reports on criminals and crimes in Prohibition-era Chicago.
Clip Below: 2014 Broadway Cast Performance