Reviewed by Evan Henerson,>
ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Bonnie and Clyde
Are our "heroes" rotters? Well, they do hold up banks and murder people largely —these storytellers contend — because they seek thrills, are stuck in otherwise dead end lives and will get blamed even for crimes they don't commit. Oh, and there's that 1967 movie which everyone knows and most people revere.
For these and a thousand other reasons composer Frank Wildhorn, lyricist Don Black and book writer Ivan Menchell might have steered a country mile away from a musical adaptation of Bonnie & Clyde. Instead, the Broadway-seeking show is having its world premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse under the direction of choreographer/director Jeff Calhoun.
Facing what would seem to be heavy obstacles, Calhoun's production is dynamic where it needs to be, dramatically viable and in possession of what might be Wildhorn's best score. Stepping into Bonnie Parker's beret and sidearm, Laura Osnes (Grease, South Pacific) more than sheds any good girl stereotyping while Stark Sands gives some nice layering to his baby faced assassin Clyde Barrow.
The fact that these robbers were every bit a couple of kids is not supposed to be lost. Bonnie is a 23 year old waitress in a dead end West Texas diner. From her radio daydreams to the indifference over her moony admirer, postal carrier/sheriff's deputy Ted (Chris Peluso), Bonnie wants out. Her first song, the show opener, is titled "Short Order World." Then she meets another dreamer, Clyde, who is trying to boost her mother's car in the diner parking lot. They sing the duet "This World will Remember Me" and our B & C are off and outlawing.
Given the metaphorical keys to their elders' liquor cabinet, Bonnie and Clyde get off on the adrenaline. Bonnie writes poetry (including a death ballad based on their exploits) and dreams of getting her picture in magazines. Clyde loves his fast cars, his gal and the other things money can buy. When they bicker, it's over whose name should be recited first.
Do they grow up even a little? Learn? Regret? Not appreciably, and this stasis is part of what hamstrings Menchell's adaptation. We never really get what turns Bonnie into an outlaw or —once committed to Clyde —what drives her back repeatedly to see her mother (Mare Winningham). Clyde being the skunk he is —despite Sands's charisma —makes him no candidate for heroism either. We may not need to like these folks, but we need to understand their magnetism, and the notion that they were depression era folk heroes is nonsense.
The Sheriff (Wayne Duvall) is mean but not corrupt and Deputy Ted honestly believes that with a stronger guiding force — to be exact, his —Bonnie might come out of this all right. Clyde's parents are powerless; Bonnie's mother equally so.
What outlaw conscience the play possesses, and it ain't much, is delivered by the devout Blanche Barrow (Melissa van der Schyff), wife to Clyde's brother Buck (Claybourne Elder). Personifying stand-by-your-man, van der Schyff's Blanche is, alas, in the grip of stronger forces than she can combat. Her musical exhortation "You're Goin' Back to Jail" (which is shared by a few of Blanche's frisky salon co-workers) is a comic highlight.
About those songs. . .Wildhorn and Black have thrown in plenty of country, a bit of gospel, some folk and naturally a power ballad or two that only the writer of Jekyll and Hyde will deliver. Kudos also for addressing Clyde's impotence, via the song "This Never Happened Before." That song comes early and the subject is never readdressed.
Production effects are notable if not splashy. The La Jolla Playhouse was the launching ground of Jersey Boys and The Who's Tommy, but Tobin Ost's scenery keeps things spare. A series of splintered wooden slats rise and descend like curtains. Rusty cars and gas pumps dot the landscape and there's barely a hint of color, unless you count the hot shine of Bonnie's red hair or her hip hugging wine silk dress.
In Osnes's portrayal, we can recognize a girl who has some ambition, who wants celebrity and who can't easily cut those family apron strings. The girl who writes romantic verses may not be the same girl who can formulate deeper thoughts of a song like "Dyin' Ain't So Bad," but Osnes taps into Bonnie's lost adolescence and the woman she never had the chance to be.
The show contains liberal amounts of bloodshed, although not as much as there might be. Calhoun, who painted masterfully in his musical collaborations with Deaf West Theatre (Big River, Sleeping Beauty Wakes) saves his visual tableaus and doesn't turn the ending into the near operatic curtain featured in the movie. With newspaper reproductions and photos of the outlaws' ending posted on the back wall (projections by Aaron Rhyne), Bonnie and Clyde get one last chorus of "This World will Remember Us." Indeed it will, and this musical will entertain while also getting viewers wanting to know more.