The history of Bonnie and Clyde is well-known. Lovers, living a life of crime. Since their infamous streak of robberies and murders, which ended with the two being killed in an ambush on May 23, 1934, their story has been told through numerous songs, poems, and movies. And in 2009, Bonnie & Clyde The Musical was born, with music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Don Black, and book by Ivan Menchell. The music is a blend of gospel, rockabilly, and blues, and the script focuses less on the crimes of the notorious duo and more on their intense love affair.
Monumental Theatre Company has mounted the show, keeping with their goal of creating theater for all generations. Co-Artistic Director Jimmy Mavrikes stated, “Bonnie & Clyde seemed a great way to pique the interest of the public as a whole,” and he is exactly right. The story is still relevant, over 80 years after the couple’s crime spree came to an end. Violent acts, driven by poverty and desperation, and sacrifices made out of love, are behaviors that have endlessly manifested throughout human history.
The production is an incredible collaboration of technical and artistic talent, with Wes Reid (Technical Director), Rob Siler (Lighting Designer), and Will Wacker (Sound Designer). Jessica Cancino’s beautiful set design uses multiple movable pieces to represent a car, a counter, or a bench. Planks of wood are removed from the upstage wall to reveal the live orchestra playing backstage. And a scrim – perfectly painted to appear as solid wood when not in use – shows action “offstage” and enhanced imagery for various scenes, adding depth to the otherwise small black box theater.
Camryn Shegogue and Hailey Ibberson start off the show as the Young Clyde and Bonnie, respectively, with the song “Picture Show.” The number gives insight on the history and motivation of the two criminals, setting the sympathetic tone that their story usually receives. By the end of the song, the younger characters are replaced by their adult counterparts, Clyde Barrow (Russell Silber) and Bonnie Parker (Rachel Barlaam).
Right away, with the opening song, the voices of the actors are knock-out. Barlaam and Silber produce dulcet harmonies and every cast member is equally strong.
Direction by Ryan Maxwell is fluid, with indistinguishable transitions. During the number, “God’s Arms Are Always Open” (a high-energy gospel song, led by Jonathan M. Rizzardi as the Preacher), the music changes and Clyde suddenly appears amid the frozen congregation, conducting various holdups, only to disappear once the music changes again. The combination of movement and lighting was extremely effective and gave the illusion of these mini scenes, which eventually lead to Clyde’s arrest, appearing out of thin air.
Helping with the seamlessness from movement to dance, was choreography by Melrose Pyne. This is not a show of kick-your-face dance breaks. Subtle, more subdued, numbers can be difficult to make interesting, but Pyne proves herself up for the task. “You’re Going Back to Jail” is a perfect example.
Clyde’s brother, Buck Barrow (Ben Stoll), and his wife, Blanche (Jana Bernard), are by definition the subplot couple, but their relationship and characters are crucial to the tale of Bonnie and Clyde – not to mention that Stoll and Bernard’s chemistry was a highlight of the show. “You’re Going Back to Jail” takes place in Blanche’s hair salon with some of her patrons. The Barrow brothers have busted out of jail and Blanche is trying to convince Buck to turn himself in. Bernard is incredible with her comic timing and headstrong attitude. And Pyne’s previously mentioned choreography makes the number fun and lively.
With all the mention of the music, proper nods must be made to Paige Rammelkamp, who played the keyboard and served as Conductor and Musical Director for the show. Music is the heart of this production. The highs and lows of Bonnie and Clyde’s love, the chases, the escapes, the moments of joy, and the tragedies are spelled out through the score, and Rammelkamp’s appreciation and dedication to the music is apparent.
The show was not all about the music, though. While aspects of the legend of Bonnie and Clyde were left out of this musical version (their crimes are abbreviated, I imagine, for reasons of time and to focus on their love story), there were other details of the story that were elaborated, offering some of the most moving moments of the show.
Bonnie and Clyde frequently risked capture to visit with family, and Bonnie’s relationship with her mother, Emma Parker (played by Mary Beth Luckenbaugh), is especially touching. There is a particular moment in the show when Luckenbaugh and Barlaam lock eyes. Silber’s Clyde is speaking, but it is the tension and raw emotion in Luckenbaugh’s eyes that is heard. A mother’s love and desperate fear for her daughter scream out in the silence that passes between them. It was a painfully beautiful moment.
Adding to this powerful production are Chris Daileader (Sheriff Schmid), Ivan Carlo (Johnson), Tiziano D’Affuso (Henry Barrow), and Morgan Scott (Ted Hinton). D’Affuso elicits a sadness as Clyde’s broken-down, over-worked father, which is seen as a large part of Clyde’s determination to get money by any means. Silber reflects the intense pity Clyde has for his father and the resolve to not follow the same path.
Scott’s Hinton works as the Sheriff’s deputy. He and Bonnie were childhood friends and he harbors a love for her. Barlaam and Scott have a sweet relationship but it is clear that his feelings are not returned. Still Hinton clings to his belief in Bonnie’s innocence, singing the gorgeously longing “You Can Do Better Than Him.”
The title of the show may be Bonnie & Clyde, but this musical is clearly an ensemble effort. Many of the actors played numerous parts and their range was beyond remarkable. Chani Wereley is, among other things, a town local and a detective. Valerie Adams Rigsbee played Mrs. Barrow, a governor, and townswoman. While credit must be given to costume designer, Ethan Henry, for an excellent job making each of the characters unique, the actors’ attention to physicality and vocal patterns make the multiple rolls believable.
I could go on and on about Monumental Theatre Co. and their production of Bonnie & Clyde but I must leave some things to be discovered and come to a conclusion. In summary: Go see this show. You already know they meet a tragic end, but don’t feel sorry for them; it is how they knew it would be. As Bonnie Parker wrote in her poem, “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde:”
“Some day they’ll go down together
And they’ll bury them side by side
To few it’ll be grief, to the law a relief
But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.”
The entertainment is not the end, but the journey.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 15 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.
Bonnie & Clyde plays through Monday, July 31, 2017, at Monumental Theatre Company performing at the Ainslie Arts Center – 3900 West Braddock Road on the Episcopal High School Campus, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets, go online.