Bonnie and Clyde Review
In one of the few funny moments in “Bonnie & Clyde,” Frank Wildhorn’s seventh and best try at a Broadway musical, Clyde’s brother Buck offers his wife a confection he bought with the loot from their latest bank robbery.
“That is the most heavenly thing I have ever tasted in my entire life,” Blanche says.
“Got it at a general store in Texarkana,” Buck says.
“Guy said they just come out. It’s called a…” He reads the label. “A Twin-kee.”
That seems an apt metaphor for this musical about Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, the outlaw couple of the 1930’s, best-known as the subject of an inaccurate but landmark 1967 film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Like a Twinkie, the world surely did not need this new “Bonnie & Clyde,” but is the world really any worse off for having it? If not filling or nutritious, some people will surely find it tasty and familiar. The actors are attractive and in good voice. The set is fun to look at, reminiscent of the weathered wooden shacks you see in Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans photographs of the Depression — and indeed the projections include those very photographs, as well as contemporary headlines, the actual Barrow gang’s self-portraits and mug shots. Wildhorn has composed 16 songs that are a pleasing if not especially memorable mix of country, rock, blues, gospel, and some soaring Jekyll/Hyde-like Bonnie/Clyde duets.
All that’s missing is a reason to have created it.
The musical’s creators — Wildhorn (“Jekyll & Hyde,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” most recently “Wonderland”), book-writer Ivan Menchell (“The Cemetery Club”) and lyricist Don Black (“Sunset Boulevard”) –seem to have calculated that the timing is right. They are not subtle about it. When Clyde first meets Bonnie – her car has broken down, and he’s just broken out of jail for the first time — he sings:
“I can’t wait to get away/
Away from the drought and the homeless and the hungry where they talk about foreclosures every hot and dusty day”
But it is an open question whether audiences these days can, or want to, relate. Film critic Pauline Kael made an astute observation about the film’s attempt at a “poetry of poverty” and why it appealed to filmgoers in 1967: “There’s something new working for the Bonnie-and-Clyde legend now: our nostalgia for the thirties, the unpredictable, contrary affection of the prosperous for poverty.”
We are now living in an era that resembles the 1930’s more than the 1960’s and our cultural yearning seems the reverse now. What’s at play now is the affection of those fearing poverty for the prosperous; witness “Mad Men” and the 60’s-era shows (on TV and on the stage) that that AMC cable TV series has sparked.
A better-made musical might have won over those of us preoccupied with Occupy Wall Street. But this one meanders. A first, wordless scene shows them in their grey Ford Deluxe Sedan having just been shot dead and covered in blood. On the backdrop is projected “1934.” But then we are taken 14 years earlier, first to 10-year-old Bonnie singing of her desire to be a movie star and an “It girl” like Clara Bow, and then Clyde, a young boy with a rifle who sings his dreams of being a gangster like Billy the Kid and Al Capone.
The whole first act is an almost year-by-year accounting of the making of these two-bit criminals, kids aiming for fame and escape, filtered too often though a conventional aesthetic and morality that softens their crimes by making them the victims of circumstance, and their victims often not very nice people. Clyde’s first murder is of a fellow prisoner (someone we never see) who is abusing him. He shoots his first police officer and then feels terrible about it, as does Bonnie; she sings:
With that bullet you shot him and you shot me/
Clyde how stupid can you be
The movement is slow in almost every way. (Although director Jeff Calhoun is listed as in charge of choreography, there isn’t any.) The less patient theatergoer may wind up wanting to scream for blood — of which there is, eventually, plenty, and a lot of strobe lighting to simulate machine gunning. One need not feel guilty about thrilling to this violence, because one doesn’t thrill to it.
Whatever else “Bonnie & Clyde” is, or isn’t, it is a good vehicle for some tremendous talent, especially the four leads, playing Bonnie and Clyde, Buck and Blanche. Laura Osnes, most recently the ingénue heiress in “Anything Goes,” is a fine (albeit oddly refined) Bonnie. She and Melissa van der Schyff, as Blanche, are the best singers, but all 25 members of the cast know what they are doing. Claybourne Elder is a winning aw-shucks Buck. But this show belongs to Clyde, Jeremy Jordan, whose previous appearances on Broadway were limited to a replacement Tony in the latest production of West Side Story, and a member of the ensemble of “Rock of Ages,” but is best known until now for his starring role in “Newsies” at Paper Mill Playhouse. “Bonnie and Clyde” is a great showcase for his many talents, and also for his torso: He frequently takes off his shirt. It’s the moments when he is wearing an undershirt, though, when his resemblance to Marlon Brando in “Streetcar Named Desire” is most acute. Definitely not a Twinkie.
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Bonnie and Clyde
At the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater
Book by Ivan Menchell; lyrics by Don Black; music by Frank Wildhorn
Directed and choreographed by Jeff Calhoun; music supervision/arrangements and orchestrations by John McDaniel; sets and costumes by Tobin Ost; lighting by Michael Gilliam; sound by John Shivers; projections by Aaron Rhyne; hair and wig design by Charles LaPointe; makeup by Ashley Ryan; fight director, Steve Rankin; t
Cast: Laura Osnes (Bonnie Parker), Jeremy Jordan (Clyde Barrow), Melissa van der Schyff (Blanche Barrow), Claybourne Elder (Buck Barrow), Joe Hart (Sheriff Schmid), Louis Hobson (Ted Hinton), Kelsey Fowler (Young Bonnie) and Talon Ackerman (Young Clyde).
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes including one intermission.
Ticket prices: $71.50 – $126.50. Premium tickets as high as $226.50. Rush tickets: $31.50
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