Jeremy Jordan and Laura Osnes in BONNIE & CLYDE. Photo by Nathan Johnson.
BOTTOM LINE: A perfectly suitable night at the theatre; well crafted and enjoyable enough, though it probably won't blow you away (bad pun intended).
That insatiable urge for a real-life shoot-em-up story keeps the 1930s tale of outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow relevant. The story made headlines when, during the Great Depression, this seemingly wholesome (but actually sociopathic) young couple took to a life of crime as a means to survive (and because they were attention whores). Arthur Penn made their story into a movie in 1967 and several other incarnations of Bonnie & Clyde have popped up in various formats over the decades. It's not a huge surprise that musical theatre glommed on to the tale; although Bonnie & Clyde the musical avoids similarities to the movie and seeks to get to the historical root of it all, the story seems perfectly suited for the stage.
Bonnie & Clyde employs a talented team of Broadway mainstay creatives including composer Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll and Hyde, Wonderland), and director Jeff Calhoun (Big River, Grey Gardens). The cast includes an indomitable foursome: Laura Osnes as Bonnie, Jeremy Jordan as Clyde, Claybourne Elder as Buck (Clyde's brother) and Melissa Van Der Schyff as Blanche (Buck's wife). With powerful voices and heartfelt energy it's delightful to watch these performers breathe life into these misguided but not necessarily evil people. All of the talent is in order and all of the artists involved do good work with this show, but there's unfortunately a missing link, likely due to no fault but the alignment of the musical theatre stars.
The issue with this show is that it's without a spark, or a moment that fills you with that unmistakable joy only attainable through live theatre. It’s rather emotionally consistent. The closest I came to really connecting with the show was one random blip when a photo of the real Bonnie and Clyde, projected onto the backdrop, showed Bonnie in a dress nearly identical to the one Osnes wears in the show. The reminder that a theatrical costume (and really great dress) is rooted in something real (and rather vile) got my heart rate up more than any other moment during the performance. Sets and costumes, by Tobin Ost, are very well executed –-- although probably not intended to be the most exciting thing happening on stage.
Bonnie & Clyde, for being a show about criminals, is very sanitary. It feels like a musical comedy, and doesn’t embrace its darkness nearly enough. Never once did I feel uncomfortable, even with guns drawn and death imminent. And I rarely got the sense that the characters really did either, save for a scene in Act I when Clyde sings a song in his jail cell called "Raise Some Hell" -- in this moment he is bloody, bruised, and really angry. Jordan brilliantly portrays a man brimming with resentment, maybe even teetering on the edge of something actually scary. It was raw, and it was interesting. Bonnie & Clyde could use more moments like that.
To see Bonnie & Clyde is to have a perfectly fine experience at the theatre. Wildhorn’s score travels between country, gospel, pop, and appropriate doses of boisterous musical theatre choral numbers. The show is executed well and performed with aplomb. But its lack of emotional connection makes it hard to get under your skin and move you in any direction other than general complacency.
(Bonnie & Clyde plays at the Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street. Performances are Tuesdays at 7:30PM; Wednesdays at 2PM and 7:30PM; Thursdays at 7:30PM; Fridays at 8PM; Saturdays at 2PM and 8PM; and Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are $67-$137 and can be purchased at telecharge.com or by calling 212.239.6200. For more show info visit bonnieandclydebroadway.com.)