Don’t confuse “Bonnie & Clyde” with the 1967 movie of the same name. While much of the material overlaps, this musical, which premiered in La Jolla in 2009, includes new highlights that are sure to win fans for this all-American, gun-toting duo. Moreover, Allison F. Rich (Bonnie) and Cliff McCormick (Clyde) give Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty a run for their money.
“Bonnie & Clyde” requires actors to balance grit against glamor – and here the cast is an unqualified success. McCormick’s Clyde has an added depth that’s altogether lacking in Warren Beatty’s slick, pretty boy version. The same can be said for Halsey Varady’s treatment of Blanch, Clyde’s wet-blanket sister-in-law. Whereas the movie makes her entirely unlikable, Varady transcends this limitation to give us a more fleshed-out person. Lastly, Allison F. Rich seems born for Bonnie’s wine-colored dress and beret.
If killer acting chops were all that’s needed to make a show, Bonnie & Clyde would be an undisputed winner. However, other elements, including video, sound, and script come into play. These elements present issues should have been worked out before opening night.
The play opens with a sequence of video projections. While the 80-year old newspaper headlines were fascinating, poor resolution of other elements, most notably the footage of child stand-ins for the young Bonnie and Clyde detracted from the total effect.
The aforementioned nit wouldn’t be worth a mention, but for the sound problems that dogged the entire show. Scarcely a moment went by when I wasn’t painfully aware that the show was mic-ed. Volume was way too loud, which aggravated distortion problems further. Many in the cast had stellar voices, which just didn’t sound true – especially when songs required more than one voice. The unrelenting nature of this problem affected the entire production. Hopefully it will be resolved, because it doesn’t do the show justice.
Lastly, the script issues make it easy to see why this play closed after 36 performances when on Broadway. This is a script problem, not an acting or musical one. The first act drags, as it does little more than develop the character of the leads – which are already well known – and show the repeated prison rape of Clyde. This leaves you ancy for the fabled crime spree – or for intermission.
The fast-moving second act provides relief, however, with bank robberies, family drama, and bang bang shoot em ups, all leading to the couple’s final minutes. Here, the story line hews closer to reality than the movie. While the sound problem continued, Cliff McCormick’s delivery was softer, which mitigated the issue somewhat. Randall King’s appearance as Hamer, the police captain, was fascinating in itself. His bearing radiated enough authority to counterbalance all the other characters on stage.
This show could be a real gem once the underlying issues are resolved. Given that the show runs through July 27th, subsequent shows are sure to be an improvement.