It’s always a joy to have a good, original musical on Broadway. Bonnie & Clyde is chocked full of talent, including Frank Wildhorn and Don Black, who wrote the music; director Jeff Calhoun; and most of all, the hard working cast. But this is not the great original musical I long to experience before I die; my wish to cover a West Side Story, My Fair Lady, or South Pacific before I close the cover on my laptop for the last time is still unfulfilled.
The story is well known, mostly from the iconic Arthur Penn movie which starred Warren Beatty as the impossibly handsome and irresistible Clyde. Faye Dunaway was introduced to the big time movie scene as Bonnie, her cool blonde beauty very much at odds with the raw nerves of desperation and ruthless ambition just under the surface. It was Dunaway who brought a real sense of “poor white trash” striving to be at the top of the heap.
Together, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker went on a joy ride through Texas, robbing and killing at will. They were joined by Clyde’s brother Buck, and Buck’s wife Blanche. They were finally caught and killed.
A large part of the problem with this production is that it comes across as a little low budget show. If it had been produced Off Broadway, it might have been a smash. Here, it’s bedraggled. If you want to express the utter hopelessness of down and out people on a breadline, showing half a dozen well fed chorus members doesn’t do it. You need a 42nd Street of dozens and dozens to make an impact. Seeing the car Clyde is supposed to be drivin’ real fast on stage only brings to mind the elegant car in Ragtime, a much more epic musical.
So much of the book seems hackneyed and facile. Clyde’s prison molestation, only broadly hinted at but immediately apparent to a modern audience, is used as a quick shorthand to explain the murder he commits. All his subsequent fatalities are just cardboard cutouts. One twenty second scene with the wife of one of the duo’s victims, deeply mourning the slaughter of a loved one, would have elevated the play.
Most of all, I’m both annoyed and sorry to see religion once again being mocked on the Broadway stage. What a terrific opportunity there was here to show the great comfort that faith can provide to people in desperate situations. How much richer the story would be if we could see a real conflict between a parent’s love for a wayward child, and a strong belief in God. By the time a real church song is presented on stage, the audience is disinclined to be moved. Religious people are fools and hypocrites; how very Book of Mormon.
Throughout the production, there are photos being flashed in the background. While I understand the Dorothea Lange classic depression image, the pictures of the real Bonnie and Clyde are distracting, and they only succeed in taking us out of the moment. Our willing suspension of disbelief is suspended when we find ourselves comparing the cast to the real thing.
There is certainly resonance to our current economic crisis in the mood of the Great Depression. I think “Made In America” is a little too on the nose; but I enjoyed the cheers that followed Bonnie’s admonition to Clyde. After he slaps her, she slaps him back and threatens, “Don’t you ever raise a hand to me, Baby.” As one woman shouted out, you go girl.
Almost to a cast member, the actors are terrific. Laura Osnes’s meteoric rise to starring in a Broadway show in a role she created is nothing short of phenomenal. She is slender and delicate, with a fragile sort of beauty which makes her instantly sympathetic. Her soaring voice is used to particularly good advantage in the soulful “How ‘Bout A Dance,” and “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad,” which comes, not surprisingly, near the end of the performance. My only complaint has to do with the costuming. Why oh why put this woman’s spectacular gym body, complete with well- defined stomach sixpack, into a belly baring halter top? Nobody looked like that in 1934.
Speaking of ripped bodies, Jeremy Jordan brings his to this production, complete with wonderful voice and a killer smile. He reminds me of Michael Pitt, the actor who plays Jimmy Darmody on Boardwalk Empire. Jordan strikes the same note of sensitivity and ruthlessness; the man with a tender heart, who has no compunction about doing whatever it takes to get what he wants. Jordan pulls out all the stops with “Raise A Little Hell,” and achieves without a doubt the most chilling moment in the show.
Melissa Van Der Schyff is the real revelation to me. Her portrayal of the well-meaning but somewhat dim Blanche Barrow is pitch perfect, as is her sweet rendition of “That’s What You Call A Dream.” I’m heartened that this wonderful actress has suddenly burst onto the Broadway scene, after years of working in professional theater. She brings the Southwestern twang that is otherwise all but missing in this piece about Texas. If there’s any justice, her performance is destined to be an award winning turn.? Bonnie & Clyde is the show you end up seeing when you can’t get half-price tickets for the show you really want to see. You’ll have an enjoyable couple of hours that afternoon or evening, but you won’t spend a lot of time talking about it afterward . Too bad; it could have been so much more.
Bonnie & Clyde
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th Street
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. She is a voting member of Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association, and International Association of Theatre Critics.