Bonnie and Clyde

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    December 1, 2011
    Review by:
    Tulis McCall

    (Review by Tulis McCall)

    I was bored. Bored and more bored. And more bored than even that.

    This show is like a wonderful old roadster that got reconditioned so that it looks dandy on the outside, but lift the hood and you will discover that the parts got jammed in any old way. As a result, the car won’t run.

    The first thing that tipped me off was the music. It is neither here nor there, making it monotonous. Some of it is perky, some melancholy, some defiant – but none of it is thrilling in any way. It is bordering on muzak. As to the singing, it is not bad singing, but it is not storytelling either. The men are loud and the women are all country-western. A lot of vocaleeze! I kept thinking about Barbara Cook who I saw recently at Feinstein’s. “You don’t have to have a great voice to be a great singer. It’s all about the story.” Here is it mostly about the voices, and on the rare occasion when it is about the story the situation is made worse because the story, in a word, isn’t worth beans.

    We first meet Bonnie and Clyde as children with aspirations. She wants to be a star and he wants to be a gangster. She dreams of going to Hollywood, he dreams of going to Hell. It is 1930 with the Depression in full swing. Men are begging for work and women are working to keep their families sane and sound. Even if there is work, the pay is pitiful and never secure. Clyde Barrow (Jeremy Jordan) does the math and figures that robbing banks would be a more lucrative way to spend his time. After a jailbreak – he was in with his brother Buck (Claybourne Elder) he meets Bonnie whose car is broken down. Within a few minutes they are in love – this is a musical after all. She is attracted by his ambition and he is attracted by her spunk.

    Being that Clyde is a fugitive, he soon returns to jail, and this time they throw the book at him. Never mind that he is depraved on account of he was deprived, living with his family in a tent for three years in a hobo village because his father was kicked off their tenant farm. The police harassed him when he was a boy; no wonder he grew up bad. In the mean time Buck has turned his soul over to Jesus and body back into the police. Buck is released at the same time Clyde is sentenced to 14 years.

    Bonnie, naturally, thinks this is a little harsh, so she doesn’t need much encouragement to help spring her beloved. Once sprung, the two are really a pair, and now the only route left to them is a life of crime.

    All goes well for quite awhile until Clyde kills someone. This was not in the plan book, and it throws everything off kilter. Bonnie tries to leave, but true love is stronger than survival instincts, so she stays. We know what is coming, so all we can do is watch the tale play out. We know what is coming specifically because that is how the show opens. We hear the gunshots and see their two bodies in a loving embrace surrounded by projections of the photos and movies of the real Bonnie and Clyde after they were gunned down. It is a grisly beginning that leads to a grisly ending.

    I missed the point of this show entirely; as I think did the writers themselves. Two people who rob and kill are presented with as much sugar as possible; that sweet little Bonnie and that poor old Clyde. It’s not that this tale should not be told. Any story is worth the telling. But to turn this into a sort of Disney production, complete with references and songs that parallel today’s economic worries, doesn’t serve anyone – especially the actors.

    My old friend John Randolph always said, “You must never blame the actors.” No truer phrase could be applied here. These are fine performers who are doing what they were told to do. They have given the creators of this show a fine rendering of this very poor material. They could do no better. As their reward they get to take the bullet. They take the hits that are meant for the writers, and they keep on keepin’ on. They are the last to touch the ball and are judged to be responsible for the fumble. They aren’t.

    Bang-bang. Another one bites the dust.

    "A modest, mildly tuneful musical."
    Ben Brantley for NY Times

    "Nicely performed but overly tame and unsurprising musical."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for NY Daily News

    "Laura Osnes (Bonnie) and Jeremy Jordan (Clyde), ... are the biggest assets here: young and easy on the eye, good actors and even better singers."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "If this is what passes for serious musical theater on Broadway today, heaven help us."
    Erik Haagensen for Back Stage

    "Of the show's various flaws, the most consequential is its failure, despite strenuous effort, to make the relationship of Bonnie and Clyde significant."
    Robert Feldberg for The Record

    "A sincere, sturdily-built musical that falls somewhat short of hitting the emotional bull’s-eye."
    Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

    "Assembles four talented leads in a good-looking production, but its trite storytelling leaves them shooting blanks."
    David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter

    "An arresting if problematic new musical"
    Steven Suskin for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Back Stage - The Record - Newsroom Jersey - Hollywood Reporter - Variety