Updated: Jun 20, 2020
For those who came of age around 1967, when Arthur Penn’s iconic film “Bonnie & Clyde” hit movie screens, the sight of Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker, looking impossibly chic in a poor-boy sweater and beret, and her dashing young lover, Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow, gave crime a dangerously fashionable allure, even if the notorious pair was ultimately gunned down in the most graphically bloody way possible.
Decades later, the twisted romance of these two Depression-era “celebrities” became the subject of a musical by composer Frank Wildhorn, lyricist Don Black and writer Ivan Menchell. The Tony-nominated show had a stunningly brief run on Broadway in 2011, and watching the altogether sensational Attic Community Theatre production last Friday evening, it is impossible to understand how it could have failed to become a hit. Here, with its scorching score, laced with the sounds of rockabilly, blues and gospel, it is enthralling from first note to last.
Director Kathy Paladino, aptly assisted by Stephanie Garrison, harnesses the energy and intelligence of their cast, coupled with the crackling chemistry between title performers Brittany Gerardi as Bonnie Parker and Race Chambers as Clyde Barrow, for a joy ride of infectious music and engaging drama.
The story unfolds as we see Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker (Samantha Divis and Simon Khan), as two young kids chafing to escape the cross-hairs of the Great Depression (“Picture Show”), setting the stage nicely with a sympathetic tone and motivation for the two desperados, and by the end of the song, the younger characters are replaced by their adult counterparts. Clyde’s father was an itinerant farmer, always beholden to someone else for the meager wages that fed his wife and two sons, while Bonnie was raised by her God-fearing widowed mother to work hard and respect the system.
Bonnie’s fantasy was to become the next Clara Bow, who was a siren of the silver screen. She married at 15 to a man who simply disappeared, leaving her waitressing at a local diner and shoving aside the well-meaning but milquetoast affections of former high school classmate and now local deputy Ted Hinton. Just after breaking out of jail, Clyde Barrow finds Bonnie walking home. Instantly, they are smitten with one another. Against her better instincts, Bonnie agrees to join Clyde on his ragtag mission to rob banks, stores and wherever else he can get quick cash.
With Bonnie on his arm, they immediately become pop heroes to the common, hard-working farming populace of West Texas, but also become convenient targets for the law. Thus begins a wild, tumultuous relationship where petty crimes quickly escalate to bank robbery and murder. The Barrow Gang’s infamous crime spree soon becomes a national fascination which spans the southwest, spiking up north to Minnesota, and eventually ending in an ambush in Louisiana.
Wildhorn, who penned Jekyll & Hyde and The Scarlet Pimpernel, offers a plethora of easy-on-the-ears, folk-tinged tunes that includes “God’s Arms Are Always Open,” a high-energy gospel song, as well as the rousing jazz number, “Made in America,” which opens the second act and rumbles through the theater thanks to the majestic, explosive interpretation by David Blair as the Preacher.
The casting of Gerardi and Chambers opposite each other is really the key to the success of this presentation, wonderfully epitomizing youthful abandon and invigorating love with convincing realism.
Each possess a set of serious acting chops and each can handle and shape a tune with finesse and flair, accentuating the likability of these small-time scofflaws in their short but meteoric rise to fame. Chambers’ Clyde is magnetic and charming, exclaiming he just wants to “be known as Chicago’s Al Capone!” Gerardi’s Bonnie is spunky and appealing and loves being called the “ravishing redhead.” Her rendition of “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad in Act Two was a tear-jerker, evoking remorse, wistfulness, and a bit of sentimentality from the audience.
John Espino is solid as the stoic Sheriff Schmid, hot on the trail of the brigands, as is Dawn Vasco as Bonnie’s no-nonsense mother. Other noteworthy performances include Ian James alternating with Cole Chambers as Ted, Wayne Arnold as retired Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, Drake Brunette as the impatient Deputy Bud, Dianna Catsoulas and Marty Miller as Clyde’s parents, and Brittani Prenger, Kayla Agnew and Kari-Lyn Mayne. Greatly broadening things was the ensemble, whether playing a revival congregation, or “Bread Line Folks,” or simply adding supporting vocals.
But two of the best performances of the night was provided by Victoria Serra as Buck’s righteous wife Blanche and David Rodriguez as the morally ambivalent Buck, Clyde’s brother, who is torn between his conscience and the temptation of easy cash. Ms. Serra and Rodriguez are easily considered the subplot of the narrative, and Ms. Serra is a marvel with her spot-on role and unsullied vocals. She shines in songs such as “You’re Going Back to Jail,” which takes place in Blanche’s hair salon with several of her patrons, and “That’s What You Call a Dream.”
The technical crew was top notch. Jim Huffman (also owner of the Attic) serves as Scenic Designer, and handsomely sets the stage with a mixture of burnt orange wood colors, platforms, realistic jail cells and a large window projection area subtly housed in black steel bars which was used for combining live action with period photos and news clippings, including the prescient opening and closing scenes.
Austin Schroeter cleverly designed the lighting to reflect the harsh hues that underlines the tough economic times of that period, and Jackie Melbon's choreography was fun and lively. Costume Designer Susan Gerard dresses Bonnie smartly in outfits that first belie her initial poverty at the age of ten, her mid-teens, and then into more fetching attire for her and Clyde when they are flush with money, contrasting sharply with the tawdry togs of their poor parents and the townspeople.
As the gripping story unfolds and their short run comes to an end, we find our two antiheroes in the woods on the way back to Dallas.
Clyde is wondering how his family will even be able to look at him after what he's done to his brother ("Picture Show reprise"). Bonnie assures him that it wasn't his fault, but both realize that they're nearing the end of their fateful journey ("Dyin' Ain't So Bad reprise" / "How 'Bout a Dance? reprise"). On May 23, 1934, on a rural Louisianan road, Bonnie and Clyde are ambushed and riddled with bullets by police on the way to meet their parents.
Fearless, shameless and alluring, Director Paladino has created a winner with “Bonnie & Clyde” at the Attic Community Theatre. This show is highly recommended and can be seen through September 16th, with evening show times at 7:30 and Sunday matinees at 2:30pm. Use discretion with small children due to some gunfire and sexual innuendo. Advance tickets can be purchased at https://www.goldstar.com/shows/1533806/checkout/new
Chris Daniels Arts Reviewer