Bonnie & Clyde
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
December 7, 2011
I don’t think anyone would have begged for the story of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow to become a musical, yet here it is, Bonnie and Clyde, at the Schoenfeld Theatre, courtesy of Frank Wildhorn, Don Black and Ivan Menchell. Those hoping that this would be another Wildhorn fiasco will be sorely disappointed. Not only is this score his best since The Scarlet Pimpernel, but it is also actually one of the high points in this otherwise head-scratching piece, directed within an inch of its life and by Jeff Calhoun.
Playing the titular anti-heroes are rising stars Laura Osnes and Jeremy Jordan. She was last seen on Broadway, delightfully so, as Hope Harcourt, the ingénue role, in Kathleen Marshall’s revival of Anything Goes. Before that, she was a surprisingly nuanced Nellie Forbush in Bartlett Sher’s revival of South Pacific. Jordan, a Tony in Arthur Laurents’s recent revival of West Side Story, was last seen as the tough-talking dreamer Jack Kelly in Calhoun’s excellent production of Newsies at Paper Mill Playhouse. They’ve both got talent to spare, yet here they’re grasping for something crucial: something to work with.
All of the fault lies in Menchell’s inept, by the numbers book. The first act plods along, dead serious and without an ounce of humor. The pair meet cute—she’s a waitress with dreams of becoming the next Clara Bow, he’s already been in and out of jail multiple times (this one, he escaped). One gaze into one another’s eyes and they’re in love, and by the next scene, they’ve succumbed to their desires, which they do quite often. By the end of the act, people are dead, Clyde’s broken out of jail with Bonnie’s help, and they’re on the lam.
The tone shifts drastically in the second half, when the show suddenly becomes bleakly and ironically funny. (For example, during a bank hold-up, when the patrons realize their captors are Bonnie and Clyde—or is it Clyde and Bonnie?—they ask for autographs. Bonnie is more than happy to oblige.) It’s here where the actors excel, delivering the piquant humor with precision. Still, the ending is painfully anticlimactic, not because we know Bonnie and Clyde end up getting shot by police, but because we saw them get shot, and their bloody corpses and their steaming car, at the top of the first act, as opposed to the very end.
In Tobin Ost’s period costumes, Osnes and Jordan resemble a faded photograph right out of an old issue of Life Magazine. Yet an ingénue Bonnie is not, and though Osnes sings sweetly, she lacks the crucial danger that Jordan possesses in spades. It doesn’t help either of them that the book offers very little in the way of character development and presents the pair as sketches rather than actual people.
It’s not a two-character musical, though it might as well be. Claybourne Elder and Melissa Van Der Schyff find a lot of meat to play with in the distinctly un-meaty roles of Clyde’s brother and sister-in-law, Buck and Blanche Barrow. Louis Hobson excels in the thankless role of Ted Hinton, a police officer with a not-so-secret crush on Bonnie. The rest of the ensemble has just as much to work with as everyone else, as Calhoun seems to have not provided for them any choreography, despite meticulously arranging them to form attractive stage pictures (credit Ost again for the set, and Michael Gilliam for the lighting).
Wildhorn’s score ranges from bluegrass to ragtime, with his old favorite—pop-melodies with driving electric guitars—thrown in for good measure. The tunes, I should note, especially the haunting “How ‘Bout a Dance” and “The World Will Remember Us,” are more memorable than Black’s generally simple lyrics, and you’re likely to hum them, as I am, days later.
Projection designer Aaron Rhyne makes extraordinary use of footage, newspaper clippings and real photographs, allowing them to pop up all over the set to punctuate the action taking place. Unfortunately, the goings-on on stage aren’t nearly as exciting as what actually happened, or even our bloody, pulpy, imagined versions of the havoc Bonnie and Clyde, a gun moll and her man, wrought those few years in the 1930s.