BONNIE & CLYDEMusic by Frank Wildhorn
Lyrics by Don Black
Book by Ivan Menchell
Directed by René Moreno
Music Director – Mark Mullino
Choreographer – Kelly McCain
Assistant Director/Properties Supervisor – Kelsey Leigh Ervi
Set and Projection Designer – Sarah B. Brown
Lighting Designer – Dan Schoedel
Sound and Projection Design – Scott Guenther
Costume Supervisor – Michael Robinson
Stage Manager – Caron Gitelman Grant
Dramaturg – Vicki Caroline Cheatwood
Mark Mullino – Piano
Cody Dry – Keyboard 2
Jay Majernik – Drums
Dennis Langevin – Guitar 1
Tony Prim – Guitar 2
Kat Kratzer – Violin
Mark Alewine – Reed 1
Marc Dunbar – Reed 2
Billy Naylor – Bass
John Campione – Clyde Barrow
Kayla Carlyle – Bonnie Parker
David Price – Buck Barrow
Sarah Elizabeth Smith – Blanche Barrow
Anthony Fortino – Ted Hinton
Sonny Franks – Preacher
Andy Stratton – Young Clyde
Alexandra Doke – Young Bonnie
Ensemble – Daron Cockerell, Brigitte Goldman, Clinton Greenspan, Kyle Igneczi, Hunter Lewis, Christia Mantzke, Michael Scott McNay, Kelly Nickell, Alan Pollard, and Willy Welch.
Reviewed Performance: 10/15/2014
Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
On November 22, 1933, thirty years to the day before JFK was shot, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow visited Clyde’s mother Cummie. The place was an open field at what’s now the intersection of Airport Freeway and Esters Road in Irving, Texas. As their car approached, a group of Texas lawmen aimed a fusillade of bullets at their car, hitting Clyde and Bonnie. But Clyde outdrove them and got away. Six months later, the same lawmen were joined by Texas Ranger Frank Hamer on Louisiana 154, east of Shreveport, where they caught the couple in their 1934 Ford V8 and shot so many rounds into the car the lawmen were deaf for half a day. Thus ended the run of the most notorious and popular Depression-era fugitives, Bonnie and Clyde.
The story of Bonnie and Clyde fascinates people to this day. They were like rock stars of their time, bigger than the biggest criminals. Thousands mobbed their funerals and many still visit their gravesites in Dallas, as well as that Louisiana death site. They’ve spawned books, songs, and movies, most famously the Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty version in 1967. Most of these are built from myth and fantasy with a bit of anecdotal truth.
Perhaps the most fascinating treatment, though, is Bonnie & Clyde, a musical with a score by Frank Wildhorn (Dracula and Jekyl and Hyde), lyrics by Don Black (Dracula), and book by Ivan Menchall. The musical debuted in 2009 in La Jolla, moved to Broadway for a short run in 2011, and has played around the world since. It seems Bonnie and Clyde were indeed worldwide celebrities.
And now it’s finally come home to Dallas, to WaterTower Theatre in Addison. You could say Bonnie and Clyde have returned to the center of their multi-state crime spree.
This is an outstanding piece of musical entertainment that has it all: relevance, great music, accomplished and talented cast, and a design and direction team that knows how to create a perfect environment for this story. I liked this show and judging by the audience around me, I wasn’t alone.
René Moreno directed this group of designers, techs and actors to create an all-encompassing experience.
The set, designed by Sarah B. Brown, was an obviously “old” place with oddly shaped angular platforms weaving in and around and overlaying each other, providing different levels for actors to play on. The wood planks looked like they’d been laid by master flooring techs and provided a base of texture that was visually exciting. The platforms fronted a tall set of back walls looking like wooden parts of houses and buildings. Also consisting of angled interweaved windows, squares and shapes, they added to the texture. Two scrim curtains backed the platforms on which images of the 1930s were projected, showing real news articles of the crime spree and local photos of depression era Texas.
Dan Schoedel lit this set with subtle blues and whites to create shadows that accentuated all the angles and wood tones and added age to the structures. He used stark colors to accent violence or more subdued blues to enhance tender moments. Lighting effects, like many tiny spotlights, supported stage action like gun battles. WaterTower’s main stage theater has a very tall ceiling and lights shone through blown smoke to form long, strong visible beams. This visual experience reflected a fractured era in our history, supported the fractured lives of these characters, and lent depth to the Barrow Gang’s life and death choices.
Sound Design by Scott Guenther provided fabulous sound for the large live band that played behind the stage. The actors’ head mics, which had to stay above the loud and rocky music, and loud sound effects in a show about shooting, still provided a clean range between soft ballads and rockabilly music. I think the microphone balance was near perfect.
Michael Robinson created a set of 1930s costumes for people living in the depths of poverty during the depression, along with the iconic dresses of Bonnie Parker and suits for Clyde Barrow. Policemen and detectives wore period accurate uniforms and suits. Hairstyles and accessories enhanced the overall believability of the characters. And into this mix Kelsey Leigh Ervi added a range of props, like guns and bags. There were even two 1930s cars pushed onto the set platforms at times to provide story elements.
Mark Mullino directed the music and led a large band that provided the soundtrack for the show and backed the exceptional singing performances. This show came across like a rock musical, with high energy ballsy songs alternated with touching emotional ballads. This band, which we could not see, did a great job matching actors’ energy and synchronizing with the action perfectly.
Speaking of singers, I believe everyone in this cast sang, including ensemble players. Together or alone, they were top-notch, powerful singers who could hit highs and lows with great control, and the music and their voices filled the theater with tenderness and anguish, or anger and rage, with equal impact. Mullino deserves huge credit for helping the cast sing as if they’d been singing together for years! I fell in love with the songs. Though viewed as a mix of rockabilly, gospel and black soul, I heard a tinge of modern country and wonderful ballads as well. Each singer, whether in solo, duet, trio, or part of the ensemble filling a short musical phrase, drove their musical expression with powerful phrasing and gave deep personal emotion to the song. When Clyde and Buck sang “When I Drive,” we saw a foreshadowing of their crime spree, but also saw brothers reliving their childhoods as they soared through the freedom they got while driving. It was “Born to Be Wild” a few decades early.
There were only a few sections of true dance that Choreographer Kelly McCain created, but there was a lot of broad, intentional movement with the songs, especially ensemble numbers, and she made it look natural as she coordinated them to the music and stage action. There was never a moment wasted, nor any hint of hesitation or wandering. Each character moved exactly as they needed to make the point of their dialog or song, whether a mix of stage blocking or choreography or both. Each move seemed to fit Moreno’s vision exactly.
Casting for this show was a gem, thanks to René Moreno’s absolute genius. Clyde and Bonnie were either inspired casting or lucky choices. Each fit the role physically and their personalities found the depths in their characters. And they were not alone, every other actor also fitting their character like a glove, with none out of place. Even the ensemble members who played different parts for different scenes, such as mom and dad Barrow, mama Parker, the beauty shop ladies, and lawmen, embodied their characters so there was no question who they were playing.
I loved John Campione as Clyde. Clyde Barrow emerged from childhood with a roguish, anti-authority attitude bound to get him in trouble in the destitute criminal wilds of West Dallas. Campione looked the part - wily, strong and handsome. When in jail, he played Clyde as beaten-down yet defiant, looking like a caged animal. The way he hunched his body and hung his head, Campione showed Clyde’s struggle to survive, but when he talked to a jailer or Bonnie through the bars, you could hear strength in his voice that showed Clyde’s conviction to get out and raise the stakes in his criminal career. Campione’s voice was a bit country - Tim McGraw? He commanded every song he sang and I didn’t hear a solo that didn’t boil just a bit, at least until he sang “Bonnie”, his ballad about her. That’s when we heard the undeniable love Clyde felt for this girl. His voice was an integral part to most of the show’s songs and I loved every one. He was comfortable to watch and exciting to listen to.
Bonnie Parker was played by Kayla Carlyle. She portrayed Bonnie’s ever-present dream to make it big in the world, through her songs, dialog, and that faraway, star-studded look in her eyes. It drove Bonnie, and Carlyle let this drive become a force that showed Bonnie’s ambition. Bonnie wasn’t the gun-toting moll at first. She was steeped in a religious society and a dirt-poor family life and this made her reluctant to give in to Clyde’s antics. But he was exciting. Carlyle showed hesitation in her voice, physically fighting against his big crime plans, but slowly succumbed to her love for Clyde. With perfect soprano phrasing, Carlyle’s songs showed Bonnie’s constant, internal fight between remaining normal and respectable or becoming so tied to Clyde there was no escape. The inevitable song for her, and one of my favorites, was “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad,” the point of no return for her and Clyde. It foreshadowed an end while showing Bonnie’s emotional toll and struggle. And the five duets with Campione were gems, a luscious vocal blend of simple harmony that churned the evolution of the growing love.
Ted Hinton was the sheriff who pursued Clyde throughout their spree. In love with Bonnie, he none-the-less was Javert to Clyde’s Jean Valjean, with a similar love/hate relationship, the true Good versus Evil line in this story. Anthony Fortino played Hinton as a reluctant, yet relentless, enemy against evil. As a man who had his own evils to overcome, with his constant fight to protect Bonnie from the dark side, Fortino walked a fine line between allowing Hinton to become lovable and genuinely in love with Bonnie while projecting anger and rage against Clyde’s influence over her. He did this through frequent bouts of doubt, followed by vocal realizations of Bonnie’s intentions. Fortino allowed rage to rail against Clyde who was corrupting Bonnie, perhaps an even bigger motivator than his fight against evil. His duets with Clyde in “You Can Do Better than Him” and “Raise a Little Hell” revealed his feelings, and were musically exciting.
Sonny Franks created the character of the Preacher who sang solos and ensemble pieces with his church. Their songs framed the bad parts of the Barrow Gang’s lives and showed how the church influenced people in the 1930s, other than Clyde of course. “God’s Arms Are Always Open” set up a constant refrain for the eventual realities of criminal life and Franks’ smooth voice gave this piece a comfortable, pastoral quality. But when he and his church opened Act Two with “Made in America,” the gentle man and his church came alive, rivaling the best southern churches I’ve heard! With a strong, U.S. flag image emblazoned across the back stage and even across the actors onstage, this mix of gospel and hard-driving rock made you want to stand up and shout Amen! It was like an American anthem sung by Neil Diamond, Lee Greenwood, Bruce Springsteen or Toby Keith.
David Price and Sarah Elizabeth Smith, as Buck Barrow and his wife Blanche Barrow, were foils to Bonnie and Clyde. Buck tried desperately to stay straight to satisfy his wife and Price made him a bit wishy-washy, swayed to the bad by his brother Clyde, but pulled to the good by Blanche. Price allowed Buck’s waiver to show in his dialog and the way he pushed and pulled against Blanche. But when Buck was with Clyde, we saw Price’s exhilaration, especially during their duet, “When I Drive.” In the end, Buck not only jumped to Clyde’s side, but pulled Blanche with him.
Blanche was very religious in the preacher’s church, but scared of what she knew Clyde could do to her husband. In how she stood and spoke, Smith displayed Blanche’s strength and forcefulness though most of the show. But by the time Blanche realized Buck was going with Clyde no matter what, Smith played weak and meek, and her solo, “That’s What You Call a Dream,” showed Blanche’s slide towards the unwanted connection with Clyde. Her strong soprano voice let us glimpse into Blanche’s personal struggles and hinted at why taking the risk with the Barrow Gang was inevitable.
Bonnie and Clyde, as historical characters, are mythical. The stories around their lives are filled with inaccurate facts and false anecdotes. But the question people deal with most is WHY. How could a couple of kids from West Dallas rise from abject poverty to become the most notorious criminals in America? Bonnie & Clyde, the musical, provides a hint at the answers to that question. With powerful songs that delves into the deep, personal thoughts of these characters, come possible influences that may explain their motivations.
Bonnie and Clyde have come home to Dallas. This production could have played well in Bass Performance Hall or the Music Hall, but I doubt it would be better. WaterTower Theatre and René Moreno have created a wonderful, entertaining look at Dallas history. With exciting music, exquisite stage design, and well-acted performances, you need to get over to see this show. This is an experience worth its long awaited homecoming.
Addison Theatre and Conference Centre
15650 Addison Road
Addison, TX 75001
Plays through November 2nd
Production is recommended for mature audiences. It contains strong language, adult subject matter, haze, canned gunfire and violence.
Wednesday-Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday-Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 pm. Additional performances on Saturday, October 25th and November 1st at 2:00 pm.
Ticket prices range from $25.00 - $40.00, with $3.00 senior/student discount Wednesdays – Fridays.
For information and to purchase tickets, visit www.watertowertheatre.org or call the box office at 972-450-6232.