Saturday, December 10, 2011

Confession: I Enjoyed Bonnie & Clyde

Bonnie & Clyde wasn't everything that I wanted it to be, but I was entertained, I saw some great performers, and I was introduced to a memorable new Broadway score. That's more than I can say for many shows I've seen on Broadway. It certainly isn't the train wreck that some of the reviews make it out to be.

The musical Bonnie & Clyde--not based on the 1967 Arthur Penn movie starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway--claims to be the most accurate telling of the story of bank robbers Bonnie Parker (Laura Osnes) and Clyde Barrow (Jeremy Jordan). The show starts off with a literal bang as the couple is shot to death in their car. At a talkback after, director Jeff Calhoun explained that he wanted to get that iconic image out of the way at the beginning to be able to tell the story without everyone waiting for that moment, which was a smart decision. From there, the show limps a bit as we have to put up with seeing Bonnie and Clyde as children (played by Talon Ackerman and Kelsey Fowler) dreaming big dreams. One thing the show gets right is that even though it explains how Bonnie and Clyde became killers--Clyde was driven to his first murder after being raped and beaten in prison--it doesn't try to justify or glorify their actions. The show paints them as celebrity driven from the beginning. Unfortunately because of all of this backstory, Ivan Menchell's book lacks a lot of the excitement you'd expect from a show about outlaws.

Jeff Calhoun's direction combined with the visual elements overcome a lot of the book problems. Aaron Rhyne's projections show images of the real Bonnie and Clyde and the depression era which add historic context. This is most compelling when mug shots are taken of characters on stage and the real mug shots are projected. And Frank Wildhorn's gospel and country-infused score is unlike anything he's ever done. It's catchy and at times quite lovely (just don't pay too much attention to Don Black's lyrics) and performed by the powerful voices of current Broadway It Boy Jordan and Osnes, who would probably be the sexiest on-stage couple on Broadway right now if not for Nina Arianda and Hugh Dancy in Venus in Fur. Claybourne Elder is appealing as Clyde's loyal brother Buck, but is underused. One of the best discoveries of the show is Melissa van der Schyff as Buck's wife Blanche--the most fascinating character in both the movie and the musical, even though van der Schyff makes the role her own (she has never seen the film).

Tickets to Bonnie & Clyde are only being sold through December 30 even though the show hasn't announced a closing notice (which seems like a terrible strategy, but I digress), so if you don't want to miss it, go now. You might find yourself being pleasantly surprised.

As I mentioned, after the show, we attended a talkback with Calhoun, scenic and costume designer Tobin Ost, Elder and van der Schyff. One of my favorite tidbits (aside from Calhoun honestly acknowledging how unfair he thought the reviews were) was that there was a song called "This Has Never Happened Before" about Clyde's impotence, but when they learned that the plot point was invented for the movie, they cut it. I hope to one day hear that song.

Later, Elder and van der Schyff ended up at our table, charming us with their Michael Crawford impressions. Elder told us about "Bits O' Buck"--a mason jar where he keeps the blood and brains that he scrapes off himself before curtain call (see a picture he tweeted here) And then Elder showed us a video that changed all our lives: "I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper" starring Phantom of the Opera's own Sarah Brightman. Watch it now. Your life will never be the same.

Photo credit: Nathan Johnson

1 comment:

Mildly Bitter said...

Me too! I went in expecting it to be awful but I would totally see it again.