REVIEW: ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ New musical is exhilarating from start to finish
They were bank robbers, murderers and headline stealers. Notorious 1930’s criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were also passionate lovers and family loving youngsters whose charisma stole the hearts of many. The premiere of the musical “Bonnie & Clyde” at La Jolla Playhouse should not be missed.
The production is one of the most exhilarating and enjoyable I’ve ever seen in San Diego. Only adding to the superb script, music, acting and singing, is a minimalistic set design, which lends to transitioning the scenes incredibly well. Images of historical facts about these tragic figures, projected on a backdrop at key junctures in the tale, heighten the show’s intrigue.
... It’s 1931 in West Dallas, Texas and Clyde Barrow (Stark Sands) is a rip-roaring 22-year-old determined to have a better life than his hard-working parents, barely able to survive the Depression. While his brother Buck (Claybourne Elder) is urged by his wife Blanche (Melissa van der Schyff) to take the heaven-ordained traditional path to finding work, Buck is awed by Clyde’s dangerous aura.
Clyde has found his calling is robbery, and even after he and Buck get caught and sent to jail, they bust out. Blanche talks Buck into giving himself up and he goes back to finish his sentence. But Clyde has now met the mesmerizing Bonnie Parker (Laura Osnes) and has no intention of spending years behind bars.
The Playhouse’s creative team has done an exemplary job of putting this exciting show together. The book by Ivan Mitchell (“The Cemetery Club,” “We’ll Meet Again”) brilliantly captures the facts of Bonnie and Clyde’s real-life saga. It also instills it with a bit of humor, and a backstory that includes some family history and how their actions affected those around them.
The music by Frank Wildhorn (“Jekyll & Hyde,” “The Scarlett Pimpernel”) and lyrics by Don Black (“Sunset Boulevard,” “Tell Me On A Sunday”) are destined to steer this show to Broadway. Every song opens a vein into the blood flow that underlies the decision both Bonnie and Clyde make. Each solo is a thrilling pause to reflect on the story, and the solo’s conclusion is an urgency to continue.
The duet, “The World Will Remember Me,” is beautifully sung by Starks and Osnes. The contrasting duet, “You Can Do Better Than Him,” between Starks and Chris Peluso (“Mamma Mia”), who plays police officer Ted, is sung with heart, incredible voices and great passion about the men’s deep love for Bonnie. None of this would be possible without the spot-on music supervision by John McDaniel (“Annie Get Your Gun,” “Chicago”).
Direction by Jeff Calhoun (“Big River,” “Annie Get Your Gun”) and the incredible cast members are icing on the cake. Tony-nominated Sands (“Journey’s End”) embodies everything one imagines about Clyde Barrow. Clyde was a daring and fearless bank robber, whose passion for revenge was matched only by his love for Bonnie, and Sands fully embodies every one of those elements. The sexual chemistry between the characters is believable and solidly confirmed by Wildhorn and Black’s noteworthy songs.
Bonnie has a push-pull relationship with her mother who wants her daughter to be safe and forget the exciting life on the run with Clyde. Osnes (“South Pacific”) is not only a superb singer, but has the “it factor” that makes her character, beautiful, desirable and oh so vulnerable.
The incredibly talented stage, film and TV actress Mare Winningham plays Bonnie’s mother Emma with the same intensity that’s earned her an Award nomination, two Emmys, and a Lucille Lortel award among others. Emma knows her daughter is a good person and fights with everything she has to make Bonnie see the truth about Clyde. In every scene Winningham portrays Emma with heartfelt emotion, and her solo, “The Devil,” delivers a passionate sorrow that evokes deep sighs from the audience at its completion.
Elder (“Road Show,” “Into the Woods”) and van der Schyff (“Zhivago,” “Pippin”) are also significant in this production as Buck and Blanche. Elder constantly confirms his ongoing struggle with good and evil; anxious to get on the joyride with his brother, yet bound by love to Blanche. In a Dolly Parton-like voice, van der Schyff tells her woes quite convincingly through many songs and great acting conveying both the horror and bliss in loving Buck.
Winningham said it’s a talented depiction of more than a great love story.
“This is the best book ever, and Jeff knows the big picture he wants to create for the audience,” she said. “With his incredible layering of the scenes, the chilling story, talented performers and beautiful songs, what’s not to like?”
“Bonnie & Clyde”When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, now through Dec. 20.
Where: Mandell Weiss Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse
Tickets: $43-$78. (858) 550-1010. www.lajollaplayhouse.org