Bonnie & Clyde

Let's start with the fact that I've never met a Frank Wildhorn musical I liked. Jekyll & Hyde is a mess of cliches, amateurish lyrics, silly direction, and nice pop music that can't do the job of good theatre music. Sure, there are some decent pop anthems in there, good music to skate to, but they're lousy theatre songs. The Scarlet Pimpernel is marginally better, only because it doesn't take itself too seriously, so its flaws are more forgivable. And let's just skip The Civil War -- one of only two musicals I've ever walked out on in my entire life.

Mom always said, if you can't say something nice...

All that said, I bought a ticket to Wildhorn's Bonnie & Clyde with some understandable trepidation. For $136.50, I want to be fucking impressed.

And holy shit, what do you know, I was!

Bonnie & Clyde has an excellent, dark, emotional book by Ivan Menchell (his first Broadway musical), interesting, dramatic, evocative lyrics by Don Black (who also did Song and Dance), and jazzy, aggressive, high-energy music -- nothing like the sometimes bland, often interchangeable pop tunes Wildhorn has burdened his other shows with. There's not a clunker anywhere in this score.

And the set is one of those "trick sets" Broadway loves that, for once, never becomes the star of the show and never gets in the way of the storytelling, with almost the whole set in rough-hewn wood -- exactly right for the period and the subject matter -- three large sliding panels that are used really effectively, and period projections that continually remind us that this is a real story, that these people were real, that these things -- these murders -- actually happened. The richly suggestive set seems minimalist, but it's actually fairly complex, with hidden trap doors, various ramps and such, all enhanced with some really cool lighting effects and projections that work beautifully with the wooden panels.

And there's gore -- lots of it, not just blood, but late in the show, one character's face half shot off. In fact, the first moments of the show assault us with deafening machine gun fire and a tableau of the doomed couple's assassination in their car. It announces the intensity of the show brilliantly.

This is an adult show about murderers, they're telling us, even if they are very charming murderers...

And then there's the cast -- Laura Osnes and Jeremy Jordan are just amazing in the leads, not just vocal powerhouses, but also sexy, scary, vulnerable, passionate, damaged, and so in love. Sure, the show romanticizes them to some degree -- I don't know who could tell this story without doing that, at least a little -- but it also doesn't shy away from their savage killing spree. And really, the entire cast is just as pitch perfect and just as fully committed to every moment. And Jeff Calhoun's direction is a study in restraint and the power of the tableau, without a misstep anywhere. It's a real joy to watch actors that good having that much fun.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that St. Louis' own John McDaniel is the conductor, music director, and orchestrator -- and god, are those orchestrations exciting!

And on another interesting note, at intermission I heard some really pretentious theatre people in front of me putting the show down in the most condescending terms. And as I eavesdropped, I realized one of them was the director of The Book of Mormon, and it took all my self-control not to lean forward and suggest to him that this was a more interesting, more adult, better crafted show than Mormon, which sounds like it was written by a creepy twelve-year-old with Tourette's... I'm just sayin'...

I never thought I'd be saying I loved a Frank Wildhorn musical, but god help me, I do. I guess that just goes to prove, the theatre is a never-ending parade of surprises. Maybe that's why I love it so much.

Long Live the Musical!

P.S. See also my thoughts on Follies, Lysistrata JonesThe Blue Flower, and Rent.

P.P.S. A few weeks after I originally posted this, I was able to arrange an interview with John McDaniel about Bonnie & Clyde, for a local radio show I co-host, Break a Leg: Theatre in St. Louis and Beyond. You can listen to the interview on the KDHX website.


Kristine Kulage | November 21, 2011 at 8:04 PM

Yes! Welcome to the Wildhorn camp! Can't wait to see this one.

Deborah Tragasz | August 23, 2014 at 12:06 AM

You seem even more passionate about this show that I am! So thankful this show will finally be in my state so I can see it!