Bonnie and Clyde became famous when they teamed up, so it's somewhat appropriate that the new Broadway musical based on their story has brought together two great couples, albeit with less actual bloodshed.
Laura Osnes and Jeremy Jordan, two of theater's rising stars, play the bank-robbing duo with sexy onstage chemistry and strong voices. The other couple is behind the scenes: Frank Wildhorn and Don Black, the composer and lyricist, who have written some sumptuous songs.
These dynamic duos enliven "Bonnie & Clyde," a relatively straightforward biographical musical with some nice creative touches that opened Thursday under the direction of Jeff Calhoun at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.
This retelling of the Great Depression-era folk tale about two star-crossed lovers teases out the twin themes of their dangerous lust and their lust for fame. Bonnie wants to be a movie star and Clyde wants to be Jesse James. That thirst for celebrity resonates today, as does the echo of economic woes, with its drumbeat of foreclosures and bank failures.
Wildhorn was last on Broadway this spring with "Wonderland," an updated telling of "Alice in Wonderland" that had some good songs but came with a book that was, at best, insipid. This time, his musical is much better but is ultimately let down by the same problem: a sometimes middling book.
That's not to say the book writer Ivan Menchell and the creative team haven't thrown all they can into the story: There are appearances by Bonnie and Clyde's childhood selves, there's a subplot with Clyde's brother, a love triangle with a cop, some eye-candy with both leads in their underwear, an attempt to explain the source of criminality, and energetic projection design by Aaron Rhyne that includes old headlines and photos.
Calhoun keeps more than two dozen scenes and miniscenes in constant motion, with actors sometimes setting up in the dark edges of the stage even as their fellow actors are still performing elsewhere. His sly sense of humor is on show when a choir singing God's praises with their hands in the air transform into customers with their hands in the air.
There are also dramatic shoot outs - marred somewhat by the distinctive sound of kiddie cap guns - and more vintage cars on stage than a showing of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." There is also what seems like vestiges from an earlier version of the musical, like a huge, expensive-looking tree stump that appears for just a few seconds in Act 2.
The plot is a mostly chronological, taking the couple from their first meeting to their bloody end. Menchell deserves credit for trying to elevate the story by looking at their quest for celebrity, but stumbles when it comes to exposition. "Clyde's been shot. He's in trouble," one character says after we've all clearly seen Clyde shot and in trouble.
There's also a bit of bloat, but Black's lyrics fit perfectly in Wildhorn's songs and even add an edge that sometimes is missing from the book. "No way I'll see heaven," Clyde sings in one bluesy song, "so let's raise a little hell."
But there can be no grousing when it comes to Osnes and Jordan, who are as gorgeous as some of the first-rate tunes they get to sing, such as the catchy "This World Will Remember Me," the fist-pumping "When I Drive" and the poignant "Dyin' Ain't So Bad."
Jordan, who was in "Rock of Ages," is charisma in person, a ball of swaggering arrogance with a sad boy underneath that's catnip to Bonnie (and many of the women in the audience). Bonnie, we are told, was a ravishing redhead, and Osnes is just that - this "Anything Goes" alumna transforms from a girl in need of attention (her sad "How `Bout a Dance" is beautiful) to a stone-cold fox cradling a shotgun. This is a killer combination: They will slay you, literally.
Some of the standouts in the supporting cast include Ted Hinton as the lawman who loves Bonnie. He shares a great duet with Clyde - "You Can Do Better Than Him" - but has a tendency to dramatically punch things such as desks to get the point across that he's mad. Melissa van der Schyff as Blanche Barrow has the funny "You're Goin' Back to Jail" ensemble song and the achingly pretty duet with Bonnie "You Love Who You Love."
Tobin Ost's scenic design are based around several huge vertical wood barn-looking panels that go up and down to highlight action, and his set has several sloping platforms that he uses to great effect when arraying silhouettes against mournful colors projected on the back wall.
Ost also designed the costumes, heavy on three-piece suits, house dresses, hats and suspenders. In one inspired moment, Bonnie and Clyde put on clothes that match exactly what the couple was wearing in a 1930s photograph that is projected as they dress.
Little touches such as that, plus a great score and terrific leads, make "Bonnie & Clyde" a peripatetic, but pretty musical, despite having a body count almost as high as "King Lear."
They did it all for love and fame.
That’s about as deep as it gets in “Bonnie & Clyde,” the nicely performed but overly tame and unsurprising musical about notorious Depression-era outlaws.
The story is well-known, especially for anyone familiar with the 1967 film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. But the script works from history, not the film.
The lack of mystery proves to be one of the show’s biggest stumbling blocks. A whipsawing tone between high drama and silly comedy is another.
In lieu of insights, Ivan Menchell (book), Frank Wildhorn (music) and Don Black (lyrics) have pieced together a two-pronged backstory to explain why the small-town Texans became America’s Most Wanted.
Bonnie Parker (Laura Osnes) and Clyde Barrow (Jeremy Jordan) shared a hunger for celebrity — she wanted to be Clara Bow; he idolized Jesse James — and hard times forged them into hardened criminals. It’s an easy and rather empty conceit.
On the plus side, there’s much to enjoy musically. Wildhorn, whose credits include “Jekyll & Hyde,” hasn’t recently had much luck on Broadway with recent efforts. “Dracula” and “Wonderland” quickly went bust.
He now delivers a jaunty and evocative score, an appealing patchwork of Americana — blues, gospel and fiddle-filled rockabilly. No bombastic Europop — and good riddance.
In Black’s long career as a lyricist, he has written everything from “Born Free” and James Bond theme songs to Broadway’s “Sunset Boulevard,” for which he won a Tony. Here, his lyrics are simple and direct, but most songs fill time instead of advancing the story.
The show's best assets are the criminally talented Osnes and Jordan, most recently seen in “Anything Goes” and “Newsies” respectively. She sings with a lovely, rare clarity. He has a versatile voice and hunkiness that make for a bold stage presence.
Fine support comes from Claybourne Elder as Clyde’s brother Buck and Louis Hobson as a cop infatuated with Bonnie.
And Dolly Parton soundalike Melissa Van Der Schyff, who plays Buck’s wife gospel-spouting wife, Blanche, brings emotional complexity to what could be just a joke of a role. Her duet with Bonnie, “You Love Who You Love,” is a sweet highlight.
Director-choreographer Jeff Calhoun and designers Tobin Ost (sets and costumes) and Michael Gilliam (lights) have deftly created a rough-hewn slice of rural America in the 1930s.
But the production has been less successful at conveying the all-consuming and corrosive chemistry between Bonnie and Clyde that let them leave a trail of blood across the Dust Bowl.
Including their own.
The musical begins where the film ends — the duo’s blood-soaked death in a car from a hail of bullets. Thanks to the evocative video projection, the show looks like a gritty graphic novel come to life.
But all too briefly. In short order, this musical vehicle steers straight to the middle of the road.
Going by numbers alone, Frank Wildhorn is Broadway’s most successful composer, with six new shows in 14 years.
We’re talking quantity here. The quality is debatable.
Wildhorn’s best known for bombs like the ridiculed “The Civil War” and “Dracula, the Musical,” and only one of his shows — 1997’s “Jekyll & Hyde” — was a commercial hit.
Yet producers continue to write him checks. A mere six months after the misguided “Wonderland” tanked, Wildhorn’s back with “Bonnie & Clyde,” the musical about the infamous sexy-but-doomed outlaws that opened last night.
And it isn’t the stinker that Wildhorn haters, rubbing their paws in gleeful anticipation, were expecting.
First, the music is a pleasant, if unmemorable, mix of 1970s soft rock and country-fried roots — imagine Billy Joel by way of Nashville. And this time, Wildhorn’s outsourced the lyrics. Don Black’s efforts are an improvement, even if they err on the side of big and obvious, as in the 11 o’clock power ballad, “Dying Ain’t So Bad”: “Not if we both go together/Only when one’s left behind does it get sad.”
What doesn’t get sad is Laura Osnes (“South Pacific,” “Anything Goes”), who makes this dime-store poetry sound like a million bucks.
Osnes and Jeremy Jordan — who plays Clyde, and won raves recently for “Newsies” in New Jersey — are the biggest assets here: young and easy on the eye, good actors and even better singers.
Sure, her old-fashioned elegance is a little too polished for Bonnie, a hard-scrabble Texan with Hollywood dreams. And his cocky confidence isn’t too threatening — it’s Clyde as football captain rather than sociopath.
But the stars feel right together, and that’s important because Ivan Menchell’s book emphasizes romance over violence.
The first act, where our anti-heroes meet and begin their illegal activities, is the best. Director Jeff Calhoun moves the action swiftly, combining a wood-slate set, projections and moody lighting to create period atmospherics.
Things unravel in the overlong second act, which wastes too much time on uninteresting secondary plot lines and characters. Melissa van der Schyff is terrific as Clyde’s sister-in-law, but Blanche’s motivations make no sense.
Where is the excitement of gunnin’ and runnin’, you wonder?
The Warren Beatty/Faye Dunaway movie may have taken liberties with facts, but it captured how sex and violence feed on each other: Defying the law was a turn-on for these desperadoes.
The show sidesteps that issue, and doesn’t even dwell on the toxic, ever-fascinating combo of celebrity obsession and criminality. And so a musical about living on the edge ends up being safe.
“Let’s raise a little hell,” Clyde sings. If only the show had taken his words to heart.
That Clyde Barrow is such a cutup. Why, the boy will do most anything to stir up his sluggish fellow Americans: slap at them, tickle them, shoot them in cold blood. He’ll even punch his fist clean through a wall and drive a big old car right onto the stage, just to try to get a rise out of somebody. But Clyde, honey, t’ain’t nothing you can do to raise the pulse of something that’s as near to dead as the show you’re in.
“Bonnie & Clyde,” which opened on Thursday night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater, is a modest, mildly tuneful musical biography of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, the kissin’ outlaws from Texas who hijacked the American imagination during the Great Depression. It portrays its title characters (played by Laura Osnes and Jeremy Jordan) as restless, libido-charged young ’uns who are about to suffocate from the grayness of their dreary lives.
So they quarrel a lot (their favorite form of foreplay) and then have sex (offstage, just in case you want to bring the children). They stick up banks, leave a trail of dead bodies and drive real fast (also offstage, since a $6 million budget can only stretch so far). But they just can’t seem to shake the torpor that makes every day in their lives — and every scene in this production from the composer Frank Wildhorn, with a book by Ivan Menchell and lyrics by Don Black — feel like the one that came before it.
Remember the advertising tag line from the much acclaimed, much-reviled 1967 movie that was also called “Bonnie and Clyde” and starred Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty? It went, “They’re young, they’re in love, they kill people.” That pretty much sums up what goes on in this show too. There’s even a fair amount of onstage bloodletting, as there was in Arthur Penn’s film.
That movie’s carnage factor — and especially the visual poetry it brought to such violence — was what most raised the hackles of old-guard critics. Somehow, though, when blood geysers out of a body in this version, all you’re likely to think is, “Well, who’s going to clean up that mess?” Directed and (sort of) choreographed by Jeff Calhoun, “Bonnie & Clyde” manages to make that triple-threat lure of sex, youth and violence seem about as glamorous as — and a lot less dangerous than — Black Friday at Wal-Mart.
Making multiple murders feel like just another manifestation of mortal ennui can be a conscious artistic choice of course. (Think of “Badlands,” Terrence Malick’s 1973 movie about a numbed-out serial killer.) I doubt that’s what the creative team here is going for, though Clyde does make some grim existential statements about the randomness of life and death.
Instead, this show has repackaged the tale of Bonnie and Clyde as a Story for Our Time, with implicit parallels between the lost ideals of one American era of privation and unemployment and our own. “This country’s had its day,” Clyde snarls. That pronouncement is reflected in Tobin Ost’s weathered wooden sets, overlaid with Aaron Rhyne’s video projections, which summon the Dust Bowl images of photographers like Dorothea Lange. There is even — heaven help us — a breadline tableau, in silhouette, somewhere along the way. (There are also projected pictures of the real Bonnie and Clyde, a bad idea, since they bristle with a gritty individuality that no one onstage possesses.)
You can understand then why Clyde, the son of a sharecropper, and Bonnie, a two-bit waitress with movie-star fantasies, might want to break away and go wild. (We meet their childhood selves, played by Kelsey Fowler and Talon Ackerman, who show up to remind them of the dreams they once dreamed.) And it makes sense that members of a down-and-out public would see Bonnie and Clyde as radiant and exciting creatures.
Whether theatergoers will share that vision is another question. Mr. Jordan, a rising musical star who won terrific notices for the Broadway-bound Disney musical “Newsies,” has a great baby-gangster face that brings to mind a dewier John Garfield or perhaps all the Dead End Kids rolled into one. He exudes a naturally intense presence, and he works hard at making Clyde seem both wholesome and menacing.
But for all their semiclad spooning and sparking and aspiringly fiery fights, this Bonnie and Clyde don’t seem convincingly hot for each other or for the thrill of being on the run. Ms. Osnes is a lovely young woman of fashion-model proportions and an instinctive, accessible elegance that reads Ingénue. (She was perfect as the romantic lead in the current revival of “Anything Goes.”)
I don’t think ingénue was what Bonnie Parker was about. Ms. Osnes brings to mind a Bennington girl slumming with rough trade on her semester off. And while she has in past performances proved herself an incisive and expressive dancer (it’s her foremost tool in defining character), here she’s allowed nary a step.
She does get to sing the show’s most classically Wildhornesque number, a second-act pump-up-the-volume soul barer called “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad.” For the most part, though, Mr. Wildhorn — who is best known for hard-sell power ballads in shows that include “Jekyll and Hyde,” “Dracula” and last season’s short-lived “Wonderland” — is politely restrained for a production that you might have expected to bring out his most lurid side.
His musical template is humbly of the people this time, which means a little bit gospel, a little bit ragtime, a little bit country-western. But the numbers — even the kind of evangelical call-and-response song that usually gets audiences whooping and clapping along — all seem to flat-line in the end. Tellingly the show’s best song is a slender, shimmering hymn to small and ordinary pleasures, nicely performed by Melissa van der Schyff as Blanche, the pious wife of Clyde’s brother, Buck (Claybourne Elder, sweet and empty).
Partly because Mr. Calhoun’s staging (with the help of Michael Gilliam’s lighting) tries to approximate cinematic crosscutting, you find yourself thinking of Penn’s movie and the incisive characterizations provided by a cast that included Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons as Buck and Blanche. Such comparisons are definitely not to this musical’s advantage.
To its credit this show’s criminal renegades are not presented as misunderstood kids, victims of a dream-squelching society. Mr. Jordan’s Clyde and Ms. Osnes’s Bonnie are, it is made clear, serious egomaniacs, who regularly quarrel (in one of the script’s limp running jokes) about who should get top billing in news accounts of their crimes. Like so many young folks today, they just want to be stars.
If only the Bravo network had been around then to meet Bonnie and Clyde’s special needs by coming up with a series for them — “Real White Trash of West Dallas,” maybe. Think of all the lives that might have been spared.
There should be -- and I'm guessing there will be -- a place on Broadway this season for "Bonnie & Clyde."
Certainly, Arthur Penn's 1967 film masterwork of violence and gorgeous outlaws does not cry out to be a musical. And, if it did, vanilla-pop composer Frank Wildhorn would not appear on most lists of feasible adapters.
And yet . . . the show has two of the elements that broad audiences seem to like in a musical: A recognizable story and music that sounds like music we've heard before. More, director Jeff Calhoun's good-looking production is exceptionally well-cast, including a breakout performance by Jeremy Jordan as a seething yet sympathetic Clyde Barrow.
Also, this is Wildhorn's most developed, most genuinely theatrical score. Unlike the prolific craftsman's six critically unloved shows since 1995 (think "Scarlet Pimpernel," "Dracula," "Wonderland," "Jekyll & Hyde"), this one actually integrates its creamy middle-of-the-road songs with the storytelling in Ivan Menchell's capable book.
Too many numbers cancel one another out with big yowling climaxes, which make us feel we're watching an entire musical made of "American Idol" showstoppers. And, more than several times, I found myself asking "So what?" as the familiar saga unfolds with more forward-moving passion than subtle emotional content.
But the story moves. The bluesy, country-kicking songs serve the characters. And the characters grow believably from their Depression-era hopelessness of the dust-poor Texas town -- deftly presented with projections and billboards on three panels of old barn wood (designed by Tobin Ost, who also did the handsome costumes).
Laura Osnes begins as an oddly cold, if well-sung Bonnie Parker. But the actress warms as her character (who wants to be an "it" girl like Clara Bow) gets swept into the crime spree with Jordan's wickedly talented Clyde (who, unlike the movie anti-hero, isn't impotent and who dreams of being Billy the Kid).
Claybourne Elder is desperately endearing as Clyde's loyal brother, and Melissa Van Der Schyff finds both eroticism and humor in his pious wife. The story, told as a flashback after Bonnie and Clyde's bloody death in their Model T, uses two terrific youngsters (Kelsey Fowler and Talon Ackerman) to play them as restless, hard-edged children. If the rest of the show dared to be as tough as these kids, there might have been real danger instead of diversion.
No one could accuse the creators of the new musical Bonnie & Clyde (** out of four) of slavish devotion to the film.
About the only things that 1967 screen classic has in common with this stage version, which opened Thursday at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, are the source material and a bunch of simulated shootings — fewer than in the movie, but more than in your typical Broadway songfest.
There have been other musicals — great ones, in fact — with murderous subjects, from The Threepenny Opera to Sweeney Todd and Assassins. And the story of Depression-era outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, whose crime spree was fueled by both poverty and emotional neediness and followed by a rapt media, might seem ripe for revisiting, given our current economic woes and preoccupation with attention-hungry, talent-deprived tabloid personalities.
One senses that composer Frank Wildhorn, lyricist Don Black and librettist Ivan Menchell took these factors into consideration but hadn't enough imagination or insight to make use of them. In lieu of the film's gritty realism, or the witty and haunting drama offered in the aforementioned musicals, the new Bonnie & Clyde delivers an awkward mix of bawdy stereotypes and sentimentality.
Black and Menchell emphasize the love and suffering that bind their couple. We see Parker lose her father as a young girl; Barrow is shown after being beaten and raped during a prison stint.
But even as played by a pair of appealing, charismatic young actors, these two never emerge as the populist anti-heroes that the writers clearly had in mind. Laura Osnes' fresh beauty and understated sauciness can mitigate this Bonnie's moony, moody antics only so much, while Jeremy Jordan's robust singing and graceful swagger just make the hollowness of Clyde's narcissism — and of the generic vocal showcases that Black and Wildhorn provide him — more obvious.
Wildhorn's music is, as usual, more ingratiating than theatrically compelling. There are predictable nods to roots music of the era, with melodic and textural flourishes evoking everything from Duke Ellington to Bon Jovi. Some of the less bombastic tunes are mildly pleasing, but they do little to serve the arc of Bonnie and Clyde's journey, or those of the characters surrounding them.
Several gifted players tackle those roles, among them Melissa Van Der Schyff, whose limpid tone and sweetly trembling vibrato recall a young Dolly Parton. Van Der Schyff is cast as Clyde's sister-in-law, Blanche, portrayed here as a God-fearin' little woman who loves her "Daddy" — that would be her husband — and minds the paternal preacher who pops up in gospel-flavored production numbers.
The problem with Bonnie & Clyde is that it can't decide whether it wants us to laugh at these folks or root for them. In the end, for all their hootin' and hollerin', we do neither.
Boy meets girl on a deserted road in Depression-era West Dallas, and sooner than you can say "Warren Beatty," they're rolling in the hay -- or rather, the dust. Seeing as how his name is Clyde and hers is Bonnie, the eventual outcome is no surprise here, and indeed the dead-end story trajectory grows burdensome, as does the fact that unschooled white-trash gunslingers generally aren't loquacious enough to steal the spotlight. For all that, three exciting performances and a better-than-usual score from Frank Wildhorn combine to make this an arresting if problematic new musical.
If Wildhorn ("Jekyll and Hyde," "Wonderland") has heretofore been seen on Broadway as a pop-music interloper, "Bonnie and Clyde" should finally lay the notion to rest. The music more or less fits the material; there's a lot of country twang and some extraneous matter, but the score has plenty to offer. Two of the songs are especially pleasing, a duet for the Barrow women called "You Love Who You Love," and Bonnie's big ballad ("Dyin' ain't so bad, not if you both go together").
Shooting up the stage as Clyde is budding star-to-be Jeremy Jordan, who made a splash in September in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of "Newsies"; he comes out looking just as good here. Laura Osnes, who won a reality-show competition for the lead in the 2007 revival of "Grease" and recently played Hope in Roundabout's "Anything Goes," is especially winning as the poetry-writing Bonnie. (The authors decide that she wants to be not a gunslinger's moll but a movie star, allowing them to write songs about Clara Bow -- and to intercut projections of Bow and Al Capone.) Also giving a standout performance is Melissa van der Schyff, singing and acting commandingly as Clyde's sister-in-law Blanche.
Nevertheless, there's something ironic about the way Bonnie and Clyde here opine that the world will remember them, when in fact the performers, strong as they are here, are unlikely to erase the memory of Beatty and Faye Dunaway in Arthur Penn's 1967 film classic. The element of sexual dysfunction in that version is absent here (although much is made of teenage Clyde having been brutalized in prison), as is a comparable level of dramaturgy: The lyrics by Don Black (whose credits include "Born Free" and Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical version of "Sunset Blvd.") are merely functional and often peppered with cliches. TV scribe Ivan Menchell's book also has its weaknesses; of the 19 actors in the cast, only five of them are given more than stick figures to play.
Helmer Jeff Calhoun ("Newsies") does a creative job with the material, although he seems somewhat hemmed in by a deck consisting of numerous skewed platforms. Set by Tobin Ost (also a "Newsies" collaborator) makes for interesting visuals but crimps the staging and leaves no room for choreography.
Show has no fewer than 35 producers and associate producers listed above the title, which might not be a record but is indicative of tough fundraising. Among the budget items: a prodigious amount of spurting stage blood.