Bonnie & Clyde
Parker and Barrow's (Allison F. Rich and Cliff McCormick) crime spree in the early '30s made them famous, not just for their knack of eluding lawmen, but also as mythic characters, their images popularized and exaggerated by media. In reality, their lives consisted primarily of hijacking cars, robbing small stores and gas stations, and constantly moving to evade capture. Two small-town kids, growing up poor with dreams of fame, the attractive couple captured the fancy of an impoverished nation looking for heroes. Because the two "only" shot lawmen and bankers, and sometimes treated their prey kindly, they became emblems of rebels against an unfair system, applauded by common folk for their misdeeds.
But we all know the ending of the story, popularized in film, on TV, and now on stageand in Wildhorn, Black and Menchell's version, we see the ending first, then flashback in time to see young Bonnie and Clyde (Angelina Wahler and Quincy Shaindlin) as they fantasize their futures. Apparently, here is the foundation for their life of crimethe pursuit of fame at any costbut we don't get deep psychology or a more detailed explanation. Yes they were poor, yes they felt trapped in lives defined by back-breaking work, but there's nothing that clearly propels them into crime, other than the thrill of knowing they've crossed a line.
The musical's story focuses on Bonnie and Clyde's love for each other, their devotion that makes them inseparable, as well as their love and commitment to their families. Downright sweet and sentimental, rather than ruthless killers, these two write poetry and songs and have fabulous sex.
Setting aside any debate about the premise, the Stage's production features a fabulous cast who fulfill the promise of the mythic imagery quite nicely. Rich and McCormick look the parts and sound terrific, turning songs such as "How 'Bout a Dance?" "Raise a Little Hell," and "This World Will Remember Us" into memorable ballads. Even questionable lyrics sound wonderful when Rich delivers them in "Dyin' Ain't So Bad." Their blend is excellent in "What Was Good Enough For You," and their chemistry works well.
They're joined by another topnotch duo in Will Springhorn and Halsey Varady as Clyde's brother Buck and his wife Blanche. Their strong voices help carry the show in numbers like "When I Drive," "You Love Who You Love," and "That's What You Call a Dream." Toss in a first-rate ensemble, including Michael Doppe as a misguided lawman and Noel Anthony Escobar as a preacher, and there's a nice big sound in the choral numbers.
Giulio Perrone's rough-hewn stage features hidden caches and a blood-stained floor, serving as multiple locales and flexible space. Jean Cardinale once again does a superb job with costumes, especially for the women. Both Varady and Rich get to heat up the stage in period lingerie, demonstrating their love for their lawless men. Michael Palumbo's lighting design smoothly highlights locales, and Garland Thompson's projections and Chris Eldridge's video work seamlessly with the lighting and action to assist narrative. Sound designer John Koss enables us to hear actors over the band, but often the actors are pushing volume when they don't need to; one wishes they would relax into the music a bit more.
It's an entertaining evening with outstanding performances and a captivating story, even if you don't agree with the glamorization of criminals. That's nothing new in the world of musical theatre, after all. Give this new one a look and have fun debating the premise over cocktails after the show.
Footnote: in the stunned wake of the announcement that San Jose Repertory Theatre is closing its doors for good, San Jose Stage has declared that it will honor tickets for the Rep's canceled show, Landscape With Weapon, toward tickets for this show, as well as subscriptions for next seasona magnanimous gesture from San Jose's last-standing Equity house.
Bonnie and Clyde, music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Don Black, book by Ivan Menchell; presented by San Jose Stage, 490 South First Street, San Jose, through July 27, 2014. Tickets $25 - $50, available at 408-283-7142 or at www.thestage.org.
- Jeanie K. Smith