They’re Young, They’re in Love and They Sing at People

Written by Mark Peikert on . Posted in Posts, Theater.

The titular duo of misguided new musical Bonnie &
first appear covered in blood,
already dead in their car from the rain of bullets police officers unleashed
upon them in 1934. That’s a pretty apt foreshadowing of this dead on arrival
musical retelling of America’s sweetheart bandits.

Bookwriter Ivan Menchell is the only person capable of
ignoring the Oscar-winning and groundbreaking 1967 film (which starred Warren
Beatty and Faye Dunaway), preferring to tell the truth rather than Hollywood
gloss. Unfortunately, that truth is dull (as is Menchell’s sole fictional
addition, a lovelorn small-town sheriff pining for Bonnie), and instead of the
movie’s emotional truth we get dry facts and a zig-zagging plot that doesn’t
even unleash Bonnie and Clyde as a bank-robbing duo until the end of act one.

Gone, too, is the desperation that infused the movie, and,
one assumes, the real-life Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. These young Texans
(Laura Osnes and Jeremy Jordan, not particularly burnishing their resumes) are
just dumb hicks who want to be Clara Bow and Billy the Kid. They may murder
some lawmen, but that’s just foreplay for them. Menchell doesn’t  dig too
deep into why they’re both so aroused by breaking the law; the Natural Born
musical version, which
is surely only a matter of time, will have to wait.

Saddled with a bulky set from Tobin Ost that relies mainly
on projections of film clips, newspaper headlines and scene-setting backdrops,
director-choreographer Jeff Calhoun has little choice but to focus on moving
his cast on and off the stage. He and Ost contribute some interesting
moments—particularly when planks from the stage are removed for a baptism
scene—but the focus is pointedly on getting everyone in place for their cues,
which leaves the sour taste of start-stop in audiences’ mouths.

Osnes and Jordan’s chemistry is adequate enough, but they
never seem truly dangerous or sympathetic or even Texan; Osnes’ Bonnie seems
more like a Midwestern gal wandering around the shanties of West Dallas like she’s
in a backstage musical, waiting for her big break. (She also sports a six-pack
that Priscilla Queen of the Desert’s Nick
Adams would kill for.) During group numbers like “Made in America,” chorus
members may root for Bonnie and Clyde, but neither Menchell nor Calhoun have
bothered to explore the parallels between the duo and their poverty-stricken era—let
alone their folk hero status with that of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

As for the score, Frank Wildhorn and Don Black have written
a generic Broadway score with gospel choruses and occasional banjos, none of
which will remain with you after the curtain falls. The songs are so clunkily
written (and titled) that the entire plot is laid bare in the Playbill’s song

Only Melissa van der Schyff, as Clyde’s hysterical,
religious sister-in-law Blanche, commits to giving a real performance. That her
performance is divisive can only be a credit to her in this broadly generic,
we-aim-to-please musical retelling of bloody bank robbers. By the time Bonnie
and Clyde clamber back into their car for the finale, their nihilism has been
turned into affable, pre-ordained destiny: the Thelma and Louise of the Dust
Bowl without the feminist commentary.

Bonnie & Clyde

Through Dec. 30, Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th. St. (betw.
Broadway & 8th Ave.),; $71.50–$136.50.