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Monday, November 28, 2011

Bonnie and Clyde: The Musical

No surprise to find a show in its third full production in fine form during a preview. Three out of four of the lead performances are spectacular. The featured actors, young and old, are strong. The ensemble solid. The staging is efficient. While the score is more swollen than swell and the book is mostly functional, in the hands of these talented actors, both provide more than enough flint to catch fire.

Jeremy Jordan, as Clyde Barrow, is tremendous. He has more killer charm than killer instinct, but from a musical standpoint, he kills it. Everything about him is effortless, especially his lyric and lovely voice. His country cool isn’t layered so much as cellular. Even when he is saddled with a score where every song sounds alike, he meets the monotonous task with passion. When cuffed (sometimes literally) with clichés, especially in the moment the whole show and his whole life are justified for the sake of his inner child—rather anti-climactically since his inner child is an asshole too—Jordan rises above the stagemine and soars above the material.

Laura Osnes, as Bonnie Parker, gets a far less showy role which makes it all the more gripping when she grabs you by the throat in the second act and wrenches your gut with the big show ballad. The fact that the song is beautiful but stupid is all the more impressive.

The revelation of the show is Melissa van der Schyff, as the Bible-thumping Blanche Barrow. She is natural, vulnerable, passionate, and comedic without a hint of caricature. I grew up with a woman who could have been Ms. van der Schyff in this role. That’s what was so exciting, she convinced me she was a real person—an incredibly talented real person.

Clayborne Elder will, hopefully, use the days until opening to find some shade of honesty. He’s got the loping gait, the sloped shoulders beaten down by the shame of poverty, and he’s nailed the accent. The downfall is that he seems to think that the mastery of drawl and diphthong requires a descent into duncery. One can be a follower without being a complete moron, and one’s reasoning can be clouded by family loyalty without boarding the short bus.

The supporting cast is fine. Joe Hart and Louis Hobson don’t really stand out. Hobson, who was so appealing in Next to Normal, may need to settle into this role. The performance is disjointed and he isn’t gifted much from the page. Neither does he bring much to filling in the blanks. Michael Lanning stands out as a preacher who wails a nice gospel tune and a pedantic pander called “Made in America,” easily the worst song in the show with the most tone deaf sentiment—you may be starving, poor, out of work, have no options but keep a smile on your face, gosh darn it, because you were made in America.

The score is classic Frank Wildhorn—too many songs with too little payoff, that don’t move the story along. He is clearly a graduate from the Andrew Lloyd Webber school of songwriting. The music swells to a bloat, leaving the show herniated and unstable. He uses the same four-note regression so many times, he reprised songs before he’d ended them. The melodic déjà vu was just as well, Don Black’s lyrics were recycled from an after-school special, a really dumb school.

The book by Ivan Menchell tries to be serious but descends into formula; and when the author’s note spends five paragraphs on how yours is the only true take on the subject matter ever written, you better deliver. He seems to have gotten caught up in the hype and offers more glorification than insight.

Bonnie and Clyde isn’t the killer it should have been, more of a miss-demeanor; but Jordan, Osnes, and van der Schyff should be classified America’s Most Wanted.

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