Friday, December 9, 2011

Bonnie & Clyde: That Wasn't Soooo Terrible

If there was a floor to my expectations for theater, this show was hovering below that floor and somewhere around the second circle of Hell.  With that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised that this show was not a total disaster.  The book, lyrics and music are not good.  But despite all that, I still found it watchable, mainly because of the terrific performances of the four leads.

Maybe "watchable" is not enough for anyone to plunk down cash for a Broadway musical these days but I was glad to see these performers in these roles and look forward to seeing them in other, better shows.  (Newsies perhaps?)  And I didn't "hate" the show which is saying a lot for me (remember how much I hated War Horse).  Didn't love it either.

They are telling the story of outlaws Bonnie and Clyde but deviating from the movie version of events (which is such an iconic film--they seem to have chosen an uphill battle to erase those powerful images from your mind and try and adopt this newer, softer version).  They have taken very dark material and crafted a Romeo & Juliet style love story.  Bonnie is set up as a star stuck child always hoping she will become a famous actress and Clyde is an outlaw youth fighting the system that has impoverished his parents.   Will audiences like it.  Maybe.  The preview audience really seemed to.  They have opted for a "why did Bonnie and Clyde" go bad approach with awkward backstory that strains credulity.  Does the first Act set-up take way too long?  Yes.  I could cut at least 3-4 songs from it including one that is about driving and where the choreography involves humping a sofa. 

But once the action gets going (in the second Act) I have to say I was swept up a bit with the 4 main characters:  Clyde and Bonnie, Buck Barrow and his wife Blanche.   The best performance hands down is by Melissa Van Der Schyff who plays Blanche.  She's got all the funny lines and delivers them with aplomb.  Every time she is on stage it is like a breath of fresh air.  This is a show that needs comic relief and she delivers it.  She has nice chemistry with Claybourne Elder (who I missed in One Arm and was glad to catch here).  The romance angle works well.  Jeremy Jordan and Laura Osnes are gorgeous and sexy and create some heat on stage. I will admit to being caught up in the romance in the show.  Laura Osnes has been known to turn in pretty robotic performances but I happened to like her here.  Yes, she's the innocent ingenue (again) and they've chosen a more sympathetic role for her in the crime sprees but it seemed to work within the material.  They have definitely taken a softer angle on her character than say the Faye Dunaway role in the film. The two couples are very different and are played nicely in contrast to each other.  The foursome at the heart of the show is the most successful aspect of the show.

There is nothing good about the lyrics or the utterly forgettable, repetitive songs in this show.  But the voices are great and I think they elevate this material a bit.  I did do some eye-rolling on some songs but like I said I would cut them entirely from the first Act.  They don't move the story along, they aren't interesting, and they are utterly missable.  There are way too many Bible-thumpy numbers for me.  Then they reprise all the bad songs in small parts in Act Two.  Argh!  There are no show stopping numbers here (there is one cute ensemble number in the hair salon).  Limited dance and movement.  It's basically a lot of sad ballads.  I'm kind of a downer musical person so I didn't mind this normally but they are not powerful sad ballads.  One of the more memorable ones is "Dyin' Ain't So Bad"....yeah that's the title. If I had control I'd also cut all the preacher songs and songs of worship.  But maybe the rest of America likes that stuff.

As for the staging, I really liked the use of projections to give the space texture.  The projections also gave a much stronger sense of place than the wood slat set would have otherwise.  In fact I like how the projections worked well with the wooden background creating a seamless but changing canvas. I liked the use of documentary photos to give the story a bit of historic perspective.  The historic perspective was largely lacking in the book or lyrics of the show, so the photo projections injected a bit more seriousness into the material.  As much as they kind of touch upon the era and that Bonnie and Clyde became heroes,  they did not really address the historical context well with the story.  But the visual look to the show is top-notch and is a real pleasure.

So all this to say...this show has some appealing actors/singers and there is something worth seeing here.  I expect the regular run of the mill theater-goer might be fine with what is being served up here if they accept the downer premise.  For the more discerning theater customer, this is a messy business and would be worth it at a discount and if you want to enjoy the leading actors.  And Jeremy Jordan takes off his shirt and Laura Osnes has abs that could crack walnuts.  There is something for everyone. 

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