Tuesday, November 17, 2009

review - Bonnie & Clyde

Bonnie & Clyde
book by Ivan Menchell
music by Frank Wildhorn; lyrics by Don Black
directed by Jeff Calhoun
La Jolla Playhouse
Mandell Weiss Theatre
through December 20
Every once in a while a musical production comes along that is just about perfect in every way.
Every element is in place and works optimally:
good book, great music and lyrics, superb direction and acting. Yes, the musicalization of Bonnie & Clyde is a gem of a show, that, at present, is a ready entry to this or any Broadway season.
Frank Wildhorn has been a controversial composer in the past, creating majestic scores for The Scarlet Pimpernel and Jekyll & Hyde. He is also the creator of some very lovely ballads. But, somehow, he's been passed over or unduly criticized. The times... they are about to change. In this show - I firmly believe he has fashioned his finest score - there's a little pop, a little blues, a little country, a little gospel - it's almost unrecognizable Wildhorn. It's totally upbeat and suits the idyllic optimism of Bonnie & Clyde like a glove.
This is a love story, ill-fated, but still a love story of two real people who had a plan - not a dream - but a plan to rise above everyone else in their small average Texas town.
They never really wanted to be bad, just famous; once defined by criminal behavior, they were trapped and could not go back: they truly believed that they were the idols fans made them out to be. In fact, they became real folk heroes. And, during a time of Great Depression, they were oft willing to give something back to the people. And, they really loved their family...it was this insistence on being with their family that brought them to their violent demise more quickly.
Laura Osnes (Bonnie) and Stark Sands (Clyde) inhabit these roles fully, and like the common folk that became their fans, I found myself being drawn to their story, liking them...almost eerily admiring them. Anyway, at least feeling deeply for them. Mare Winningham (Emma) adds another trophy to her mantel. In this role of genuine feeling as Bonnie's mother, she is simply wondrous. She sings the ballad "The Devil" in Act II so very beautifully. Melissa van der Schyff (Blanche), reminding one vocally of Dolly Parton, is equally genuine in her outbursts of raw emotion. Claybourne Elder as Buck Barrow has the reverse disposition of Clyde; he could be your neighbor, your friend, your sibling, a good man unwittingly gone bad. Also outstanding are Wayne Duvall as the sheriff, Michael Lanning as the preacher, and Chris Peluso as Ted, the cop so smitten with Bonnie.
Scenic and costume design by Tobin Ost are simply marvelous. The set has wooden panels that serve to create indoor and outdoor venues to period perfection. John McDaniel's music direction is also excellent. In praise of Menchell's book, I so admire the artistic, nonviolent ending. The violence worked on the big screen, but onstage, we need an extra special touch to preserve the memory of the romance, like a lovely waltz as the rest of the world looks on.
To be described as ravishing made Bonnie's day; this ravishing musical surely makes a difference, as it tributes the good as well as the bad side of Bonnie & Clyde.
5 out of 5 stars


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