Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bonnie & Clyde @ The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

While it may be true that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are famous murders and bank robbers, it is almost impossible not to fall madly in love with them in the new Broadway musical Bonnie & Clyde.  Throwing away the traditional “all guns and no back story,” this new piece explores the lives of these two individuals that will forever be in the American history books.  Starting from the ages of ten, the audience is let into the world of these criminals to see what truly made them tick.  With a book rich in accuracy and fresh tunes, Bonnie & Clyde is a new and exciting piece of theatre for history and theatre buffs alike.
Bonnie Parker is a luscious red head with dreams of becoming the “”it girl;” the only problem is she makes minimum wage at a rundown diner in the middle of nowhere.  With her father and grandmother deceased, her only family is her momma, Emma Parker.  Clyde Barrow is the classic bad boy - been in and out of jail and always causing trouble, yet is a huge hit with the ladies.  Always on the hideout, his support comes from his brother, Buck Barrow, who is also in the game of auto theft.  As the fates would have it, Bonnie and Clyde meet one night and share a night of passion that quickly turns into one of the most famous pairing in the world.  After some jail time and an escape that ends in murder, the two love birds decide to live life to fullest.  It is now them verses the world, and as the world would soon learn, there would be no forgetting Bonnie and Clyde.
Leading the cast are two of Broadway’s rising stars, Laura Osnes (Anything Goes and Grease - winner of the NBC series) and Jeremy Jordan (West Side Story and the recent out-of-town run of Newsies).  Together these two actors share a passion on stage that that has enough gun powder to blow out the theatre.  Osnes does a stunning job of portraying Bonnie Parker - a strong headed woman who slowly loses her innocence from page one through to the end.  Bonnie is a woman who thrives off of attention; Osnes brings this quality to the character without making her feel desperate.  Her lighter than air presence and knock out voice come together to form the perfect image of Bonnie - the red head who was so desperate to make it, she feel for Clyde Parker.  Jordan brings his charm, smile, and wonderful voice to the role of the misguided killer.  Clyde is a man who never set out to kill, which makes him all the more vulnerable when he kills his first police officer.  Jordan keeps the tough guy act for a bit too long breezing past wonderfully written moments where the heart of Clyde is intended to come out.  While the performance is strong, there are some emotions missing from the performance; however, combined with Osnes, the two take all of the punches and leave plenty of bullets about the stage.  Supporting Bonnie and Clyde is yet another pair, Blanche and Buck Barrow.  This duo is brought into this piece with brilliant performances by Melissa Van Der Schyff (Big River) and Claybourne Elder (Public Theatre’s Road Show).  Representing the one that wants to do right, but always gets pulled in the other direction due to love, family, and the almighty dollar; Van Der Schyff gives a performance that is sweet, funny, and deeply emotional.  Elder portrays Buck, the brother who always wants more, with an open heart, allowing the audience to see the soft side of a fugitive who will never fully be clean.  The whole ensemble works wonders around these two couples to represent the height of the depression in 1930s America.  With rich voices that blend well to the different styles of music created for the piece, every member of the cast works extremely well together to create a wonderful piece of theatre.
Bonnie & Clyde is re-imagined for a whole new generation thanks to the efforts of Ivan Menchell (The Commentary Club) on book, Don Black (Sunset Boulevard) on lyrics, and Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll & Hyde) on music.  One of the main goals that this production prides itself in is “back story.”  In order to understand all of the killing and robbing, it is extremely important to know how all of that madness came to be.  Menchell did his homework to put together a book that is historically accurate, witty, sexy, and smart.  He reinvents these characters so that by the end of the show, the audience is almost routing for them to win.  The only flaw is that Act I is all back story, leaving the audience wanting a bit more (which surely get delivered in Act II when guns go blazing by).  Black and Wildhorn come together to create a song book that is full of genera after genera, all fused with that Wild West tone.  While a lot of the songs did not POP as one would have hoped, each song worked well to advance the plot and add some key character details; one can only wish that goal was accomplished with one or two “stuck in your head” songs.  If there is a down flaw to this piece, it lies in the hands of director Jeff Calhoun (Grey Gardens and the upcoming Newsies). The direction felt very choppy and over blocked.  While this could be a fault to the actors, a lot of the movements felt forced; however, this overall uneasiness could be attributed to the scenic design of Tobin Ost (Brooklyn).  While the raw wooden set looked amazing, the many elevations and slops in the stage made it hard for actor movement throughout scenes.  Strong lighting design by Michael Gilliam (Big River) and projection design by Aaron Rhyne (Second Stage’s The Blue Flower) were nice elements that added greatly to the piece.  Using real-life images brought the audience back to the 1930s, and served as a wonderful reminder of just how true this story really is.  The overall elements of this piece were impressive - a reality checking book, lush score, and strong design focus all helped take this new musical to high heights.
Bonnie & Clyde is a stunning new musical that is shooting up the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.  If you are in New York and looking for a fresh piece of theatre, stop by and hear the tale of Bonnie and Clyde.

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