They're Young, They're In Love, And They Sing at People

Written by Mark Peikert on . Posted in Arts & Film, Theater.


The titular duo of misguided new musical Bonnie & Clyde 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.

Book writer 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 Killers 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 list.

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.),www.bonnieandclydebroadway.com; $71.50–$136.50.

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