(By "poignant," we mean "heart-wrenchingly beautiful.")
If those words ring true, the song's title pretty much sums up our feelings about the show. "You don't have no say / your heart decides / it's that simple, I'm afraid," you
(By "love," we mean "absolutely adore in a way that not just every show makes us feel.")
Bonnie and Clyde is the latest Broadway endeavor of (ill)-famed composer Frank Wildhorn. His most recent project, Wonderland (which shuddered to a close after just 33 performances last spring), is raw in the minds of the theatrical community. We did not see Wonderland, and our familiarity with Wildhorn's work was limited to brief encounters with the cast recordings of Jekyll and Hyde and The Scarlet Pimpernel. So, we walked into the Schoenfeld with no stigmas against the show, and a whole lot of enthusiasm for Bonnie and Clyde themselves. Because, as will become abundantly clear in this review, we're kind of obsessed with the actors who portray them.
And then there was the moment when the opening number began, and news clippings and photographs were projected onto the back wall of the set, and we were immediately transported into the slums of 1934 West Dallas. And we fell in love.
(Spoilers ahead...although it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that several characters die by the end of the show...right?)
The introduction of the show's two main characters through Young Bonnie and Young Clyde works really, really well. As Young Bonnie (Kelsey Fowler, who has a wonderfully pure voice and looks uncannily like her older onstage self) dreams about becoming a movie star and Young Clyde (the adorable and SO polite Talon Ackerman) sings about his hero, Billy the Kid, book writer Ivan Menchell gives the audience just enough background to understand the characters' later motivations.
To cut right to the chase (ha. ha.), we have a LOT of feelings about the show's two leads. As the title characters, Laura Osnes and Jeremy Jordan are giving knockout performances that absolutely will push them into the category of A-list Broadway stars. Things we love about both of them? Their voices. The harmonies they resolve at the end of "This World Will Remember Us." Their chemistry. (Mr. Jordan can write us a song and play it on his ukelele any damn time he feels like it. While wearing minimal clothing. In a bathtub. Just sayin'.) The fact that they were both getting entrance applause just a week into previews. (What WHAT!) As Clyde, Mr. Jordan manages to hit each and every note on a roller-coaster ride of emotions. As one of America's most notorious criminal legends, it's always clear that Clyde is a flawed character, but somehow we end up rooting for him (and Bonnie), and without that element, the show wouldn't work at all. Mr. Jordan really shines in conveying the transformations that Clyde experiences in prison and following his first kill, and "Raise A Little Hell" may be my favorite song in the show based simultaneously on climatic acting, raw vocals, and that killer last note that hangs in the rafters. "Too Late to Turn Back Now" is also quite a showcase for his voice; although it may be a bit upbeat for the tone of the scene (Clyde's in the midst of telling Bonnie that he killed a man), it's a fantastic song with tremendous forward motion for both characters.
Likewise, Ms. Osnes does a phenomenal job of introducing Bonnie as a waitress - and a dreamer - and carrying her all the way to the big shoot-out towards the end of the second act, when all the actors on stage are frozen and Bonnie is backlit while aiming her gun at an indeterminable target. It's really a stunning image that stands in stark contrast to the violence and tension of the scene. Every time Ms. Osnes sings, which fortunately for our ears is a lot in this show, it's truly a PERFORMANCE. It's not just her singing; it's her living the song and putting real emotion into it. This holds true for numbers like "You Love Who You Love" and "Dyin' Ain't So Bad," which just about brought down the house both times we've seen the show, as well as "How 'Bout A Dance," which we love for its A) lighting, B) opportunities for Ms. Osnes to belt the crap out of it, and C) the fact that it's introduced as a song on the radio and makes a second appearance later in the show.
In case you stopped reading somewhere in the midst of our ode, here's all you need to know: we think Mr. Jordan and Ms. Osnes are both phenomenal. To die for. (Okay, we'll stop.) Hillary and I spend an inordinate amount of time discussing how perfect they are for their respective roles. Our only pipe dream that remains unfulfilled? WE WISH THEY ACTUALLY DANCED IN THE SHOW DURING "HOW 'BOUT A DANCE." But we'll forgive that in light of the way that both leads command the stage as only a leading man and woman can.
The standout of the very well-cast supporting ensemble is Melissa Van Der Schyff as Blanche Barrow. Not familiar with her name? You should be, because she's sure to be recognized for the performance she's giving. The wife of Clyde's brother Buck, Blanche initially seems like the comical character of the bunch. She's very matter-of-fact, no-beating-around-the-bush, and not at all comfortable with Clyde and Buck's criminal ways. She's also very attached to her faith, and uses that foundation to convince Buck to try and regain a straight path in life. Inevitably, Buck can't escape his past, but Blanche stays by his side until the end. I'm not always one for country-ified voices, but Ms. Van Der Schyff's tone quality is so pleasing to the ear and filled with emotion. Seeing the show a second time and knowing where her character was headed made her performance that much more powerful. The terror and shell-shock she emotes in her final scene, when Buck has died in her arms and she's getting mugshots taken in prison, covered in blood, is so heartbreaking - even more so with a photograph of the real Blanche at the same moment in time projected in the background.
The rugged Claybourne Elder plays opposite Ms. Van Der Schyff as Buck Barrow. Although Buck is onstage for a fair portion of the show, he never really gets a "star" moment, and we wish his character was developed a little further, especially due to his close partnership with Clyde. That said, "When I Drive," sung by the two brothers, is one of the most exciting songs in the show and reinforces another dimension of both characters - their love for fast cars and the Great Depression equivalent of an appreciation for the high life. We were also super stoked on behalf of Mr. Elder to return to the show and see that, after Buck has sadly bit the dust, his frame is no longer barrel-rolled into the grave pit in the stage floor. Ouch.
As sheriff Ted Hinton, Louis Hobson grabs his limited number of songs - "You Can Do Better Than Him" and the reprise of "Raise A Little Hell"- and sings the hell out of them. After seeing him a few times in Next to Normal and attending his concert at Joe's Pub last year, it was even more of a thrill to hear him stretch his voice. Character-wise, though, we had a few qualms. We only learn about the character of Ted in relation to his long-lost love for Bonnie, which should throw a wrench into the love story between Bonnie and Clyde. Instead, because his character isn't given another dimension, and because the chemistry between Ms. Osnes and Mr. Jordan crackles like a live wire, Ted comes across as a rather tepid love interest. That IS the point of the character, after all - no one goes into a show called "Bonnie and Clyde" expecting Bonnie to end up with someone else - but we felt that Mr. Hobson was given the short end of the stick in terms of character development. (Were we to advise Mr. Menchell and Mr. Wildhorn on revisions, we would have either shortened the two songs sung by the preacher, or given those spaces to the character of Ted. Seeing that we only hear him sing about Bonnie, giving Ted a song about his abidance to the law might have provided the contrast to Bonnie and Clyde's outlaw life that the church plot line tried to show.)
On another critical note, we noticed a few moments, mostly in act two, where the scene playing out onstage was pretty serious - you know, with guns and all - and THAT person in the audience would laugh loudly and awkwardly. *crickets* Maybe those scenes need a little bit of work on clarifying the tone they're trying to convey, or maybe it was just our particular audience that night that didn't get the gravity of the moment.
Overall, though, we are madly in love with this show. It's kind of a problem. We also adore....
...the way scenes are integrated into "God's Arms Are Always Open." It helps make the song itself less awkward and hokey.
... that there's an entr'acte at the top of act two! Major props.
...that the ensemble's sound is fantastic! Especially in "Made in America," you'd never guess there were only 10 people onstage - the sound they produce is much fuller. Ditto for the orchestra, which is only 7 people.
...that the poetry Bonnie writes is incorporated as a recurring theme between her and Clyde.
...the middle salon woman's asides during "You're Goin' Back to Jail," which include "Jesus, cover your eyes!" and "Praise Him twice!" You, m'am, are hilarious. Well done.
The reappearance of Young Bonnie and Clyde in one of the show's last scenes brings everything full circle, especially since it's quite easy to forget that the real outlaws were only 24 and 25, respectively, when they died. The image of Old Clyde showing his younger self around the scene of a shootout, frozen in time, and explaining his kill-or-be-killed mentality of survival, is one of the show's most quietly powerful scenes.
For the odd theater-goer who lives under a rock, the entire outside of the theater is covered with "decorative" bullet holes. (Slight tangent, but: this show has the sexiest show art/commercial out of any Broadway show we've ever seen. Ms. Osnes and Mr. Jordan sure are pretty to look at, but Nathan Johnson's gorgeous photography - shout out to the Mr. Laura Osnes! - is fantastic.) If you've somehow NEVER HEARD of Bonnie and Clyde, the show's artwork should hint that it will involve a moderate amount of gunfire. And, HUGE SPOILER AHEAD, the very first scene drops right into the middle of the shootout that ended the duo's lives. Once you've seen that rather traumatic image, it's in the back of your mind for the rest of the show. Even if it's partially because you're marveling that Mr. Jordan and Ms. Osnes looked very convincingly dead because they didn't move a MUSCLE. As the second act winds down, it becomes clearer and clearer that Bonnie and Clyde are wearing the same clothes they were in that first scene, that they're having the conversation that ends with them driving away into the ill-fated night. And even though you know what's going to happen next - you've SEEN what's going to happen - you're completely on the edge of your seat for these two tragic characters. And then the show ends. The decision not to conclude by duplicating the show's first scene is complete genius. It leaves the audience wanting more, with a sense of bittersweet victory without glorifying the pair's criminal ways. Bonnie and Clyde are ending the chase on their own terms, together and in love and all pretty-like. The end. It may place an unrealistic emotional spin on things, but we're talking about a musical, here, folks. And we can't think of a better ending for this one.