Addison — Bonnie and Clyde have long fascinated the public ever since they exploded on the scene in the 1930s. They were on the first of the “most wanted” public enemy lists and the caused some of the involvement of the FBI in local law enforcement. Soon after, the G-men were here to stay. They started to rack up other successes, such as John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson. The usual trick of escaping to another state to lie low lost its protection as the FBI could go everywhere.
As a result, Bonnie and Clyde receive quite a lot of attention to this day. There have been a number of movies. In 1958, William Witney directed a version. Arthur Penn directed the best-known version in 1967. Perhaps it was this film, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunnaway, that created the glamorous image of the two criminals we all have today—The Great Gatsby with pistols.
However that image arrived, the 2009 musical Bonnie & Clyde by Frank Wildhorn, now playing at WaterTower Theater, sugar coats the two into a pair nice kids from down the street in Dallas. Charming Clyde had childhood dreams of being a charismatic criminal and beautiful Bonnie was going to be a big movie star, like every other girl her age. They just had a series of bad breaks.
If Clyde hadn’t been sodomized when he was in prison, he wouldn’t have asked Bonnie to help him break out. If a cop hadn’t pulled a gun on them when they were robbing a ragtag store, they wouldn’t have had to kill him—and so on. Of course, this is pure fantasy, but what else can a musical version of the lives of two hardened killers be?
Director René Moreno, taking on the show's regional premiere, is stuck with the book by Ivan Menchell that moves in tedious, chronological order from event to event. Further, Moreno can’t do much about the overly long first act except to keep everything moving at a quick pace without crossing over into frantic. Don Black’s lyrics are a nimble improvement over the slow-moving book and offer some clever lines. Overall, the effect is one of a tight and smooth running production of an ordinary show.
Sarah B. Brown’s scenic design has a dilapidated look that adds to the depression era feeling. There are platforms of weathered wood and a large tarp in the back that acts as a curtain. Projections of newspaper headlines help to tell the sad tale. Michael Robinson’s costumes are effective without calling attention to themselves. Mark Mullino’s excellent but small band was invisible, which means that he had no communication with the stage. But in a show that is made up of one song after another, his main job is to get them started in the right tempo.
When the show opens, we see the duo as their younger selves as they dream about being a famous gunslinger and an actor like Clara Bow (respectively). What sweet kids! Alexandra Doke’s Bonnie (the younger) and Andy Stratton’s (Clyde the juvenile delinquent) are a high-energy pair and as cute as they can be. Young vibrato-less voices are naturally strident, but the amplification made it worse.
Kayla Carlyle and John Campione play the pair as young adults. The real Bonnie and Clyde were both in their early 20’s when they met their final fate, so the young actors remind us that they were barely out of their teens, not an age known for the best judgment. Vocally, both are very strong and have excellent diction. All pop singers use the vocal device of starting a note without vibrato and adding it in later. Here, both singers wait way too long to add in the vibrato. They might be trying to sound like their younger selves, but the effect in their otherwise pleasant voices is shrill and unpleasant.
No so with Anthony Fortino, who plays Ted Hinton, a suitor of Bonnie’s before she met Clyde. He is the erstwhile deputy that doggedly tracks them down. Fortino has a gorgeous instrument that is perfectly produced and used with skill. He is the best voice on the stage. He is on the wooden side as an actor, but that very well may be the way Moreno wanted the stiff-necked but good-natured and loyal, local cop to appear.
David Price plays Buck, Clyde’s loyal but not-too-bright brother and Sarah Elizabeth Smith is wonderful as his evangelical wife, Blanche, who makes the transition to passing the collection plate to emptying it into her purse easily once the die is cast.
In the end, neither Bonnie nor Clyde was ever convicted of anything so they have to be considered “innocent until proven guilty.” Of course, there was no doubt of their identity and of their ruthless crimes. They both handed out autographs in the banks they robbed.
The only real guilty party is composer Frank Wildhorn. His best known musical, Jekyll & Hyde, is saved by one big knockout song, “This Is the Moment.” Such a song would have saved this tepid score as well but, alas, we waited in vain to be wowed. All the songs were just fine, serviceable and pleasant while they lasted, with one song of almost every genre from country and western to gospel. However, in retrospect, in is difficult to remember any of them. Every show needs an earworm; some shows (which shall remain a nameless phantom) exist on little more than one or two them.
But you really need at least one.