REVIEW- "Bonnie & Clyde" - Candlelight Pavilion
Updated: Jun 20
Boy meets girl on a deserted road in Depression-era West Dallas, and sooner than you can say "Warren Beatty," they're rolling in the hay—or rather, the dust.
Of all the legendary real-life outlaws who have cemented their place in the pages of classic Americana, few have been as iconically brought to life as Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Arthur Penn directed the best-known film depiction of the tale, ”Bonnie and Clyde” in 1967, which starred Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. And after appearing at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego in 2009, the musical theatre version opened on Broadway two years later, running for 69 performances.
The Candlelight Pavilion’s current rendering of the Tony-Nominated “Bonnie & Clyde,” now finishing its third crowd-pleasing weekend and playing through October 13th, is definitely one not to be missed! The combination of exhilarating performances along with a brilliant, intense score from Frank Wildhorn (“Jekyl & Hyde,” “Wonderland”) makes this a very arresting and engaging musical.
Book by Ivan Menchell and lyrics by Don Black (whose credits include “Born Free” and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical version of “Sunset Blvd”), this production isn’t as much a shoot-‘em-up story as it is a love story—romantic love and familial love, and what one will do for said love. The authors also clearly fashioned their engaging outlaws to resonate with the cultural sensibility of the era in which they were living.
Menchell’s most probing insight in his book is that, starting in childhood, both young Bonnie (Serena Thompson) and young Clyde (Joey Caraway) identified fame as their ticket out of their dirt-poor drudgery in Texas. So Bonnie prays at her father’s funeral to succeed Clara Bow as the next “It” Girl, while young Clyde hones up on his shooting skills, dreaming of being another Billy the Kid or Al Capone. Soon, Bonnie & Clyde the outlaws become an inevitable force of nature to them. Unfortunately, it all culminates with a tragic ending.
Both in their mid-20’s upon their demise, their crime spree was set mostly around the Dust Bowl farming communities of the 1930’s when money and jobs were scarce, which poignantly evoked the contemporary exuberance of those times as well as the sadness. The gang is believed to have killed at least nine police officers along with several civilians, robbed a dozen-or-so banks, and scores of small stores and rural gas stations.
Romanticized by the press and the pulp detective magazines of the day, Bonnie and Clyde’s rise to fame as criminal superstars was primarily the direct result of the focus of attention during “America’s Public Enemy Era,” and contributed unequivocally to their fate.
As Clyde graduates from theft to murder, Bonnie frets about following him down a fatal path. Her friends and family tell her to ditch the bad-seed trash, but she loves him. The show’s chief interest is the love story. There’s no sexual ambiguity. Clyde is a man with a lusty appetite for Bonnie who responds with equal ardor. That tug-of-war between reason and romance remains stuck on repeat mode for much of the show. But Bonnie is also increasingly seduced by their growing fame. She’s overjoyed when her poems about their outlaw exploits are published in newspapers and magazines calling her a “ravishing redhead.”
Callandra Olivia as Bonnie and Beau Brians as Clyde lead up a considerable cast under the guide of veteran actor Victor Hernandez in his directorial debut, who, incidentally was an original member of the Broadway and Regional Bonnie & Clyde productions. John LaLonde serves as Assistant Director.
Ryan O’Connell also makes his Candlelight debut as Music Director. He most recently orchestrated the Off-Broadway run of “Ernest Shackleton Loves Me,” as well as having had a wide array of accomplishments in Theatre as an MD, including “Mary Poppins,” “ In The Heights,” “ Into The Woods,” “ CATS” and “42nd Street.” O’Connell has also worked on NBC’s “Nightline: JFK Special,” CBS’s “Sinatra 100” and “Michael Buble’s Christmas in Hollywood,” among others.
Shooting up the stage as Clyde seems an easy feat for budding star-to-be Brians, who made an impact recently in NBC’s Season 2 of “Timeless,” and he comes out looking just as good here with a winning twinkle in his eye and a cocky presence. He also may have been seen of late at the Chance Theatre’s “ClaudioQuest.”
An independent film producer as well as a solid theatre and film actor, Brians has an incredible sizzle that gives his role of Clyde much credence. Ms. Olivia, a Candlelight regular, most recently in “Legally Blonde,” was part of the opening cast for the World Premiere Frozen (Disney), has a brimming resume of guest roles for TV and commercials, and is especially winning as the poetry-writing ballad-singing Bonnie.
Not only do Olivia and Brians create sympathetic characters, but the musical numbers showcase their exceptional vocal talents as well—as they do for many of the supporting characters. One example is the versatile David Sasik as Bonnie’s love-struck local cop Ted, who has a wonderfully memorable and impeccably timed duet with Brians (“You Can Do Better Than Him”), and whose role in the show portrays a much more in-depth soul-search than usual to the character, especially when he realizes that there is only one way out for Bonnie, and he would need to see it through to the end.
Sasik explains, “None of us could have imagined how spectacular Bonnie & Clyde was going to be until we began to rehearse and it just suddenly became magic. The talent that has been accumulated for this show is quite incredible and every actor on stage is a featured role with crowning moments. I think part of that was due to the creativity of our fantastic director, Victor, as well as the cast including an extraordinary number of Broadway people and heavily experienced actors on-board. It just feels like the universe brought us all together at just the right time to do this amazing run here at Candlelight.”
Also, giving a side-splitting command performance is award-winning songwriter Katie McGhie, with an incredible delivery as Clyde’s God-fearing sister-in-law, Blanche. Her henpecking insistence that her husband, Buck Barrow (Nic Olsen), swears off crime, goes back to serve his time and stays away from no-good Clyde yields the show’s most amusing number in “You’re Goin’ Back to Jail.” Sung with a gorgeous Dolly Parton-esque warble, and given droll support by big brother Buck, along with the women in Blanche’s hair salon, Stella, Trish and Eleanore, it has become a most anticipated number in the show. Funny indeed!
But Bonnie & Clyde is a dynamic story of fugitive lovers on a date with death. Olsen’s gifted portrayal of Buck, with his respectable adoration and devotion to his brother, was admirable in many ways. Loyalty is a commendable thing, and Buck would have likely led a normal life otherwise. He was even baptized by The Preacher before venturing into a full-time life of crime, but ultimately his blind allegiance was his down-fall. Buck’s fatal ambush scene evoked sympathy with the audience, but especially for Blanche, who had never even picked up a gun, and seemed traumatized and devastated in a total reverse character persona from the first act.
If Wildhorn’s reputation on Broadway as a pop-music interloper preceded him before “Bonnie & Clyde,” this show should add another dimension to his talents with his modern contemporary crossover ballad/country rock score. Several of the songs are especially pleasing, sprinkled with melancholy, including the duet with Bonnie and Blanche called “You Love Who You Love,” Bonnie’s big ballad, “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad,” and the show’s most romantic number, “How ‘Bout a Dance.”
One of the highlights of the music portfolio was Michael Lanning’s performance as The Preacher. Having toured with George Harrison, Trans-Siberian Orchestra as well as Broadway and National productions, Lanning was signed to Dark Horse Records in his early career, with company such as Fleetwood Mac, Frank Wildhorn, Larry Gatlin and more. He has been a top session vocalist and has recorded with groups such as The Stray Cats, Dave Edmunds and Slyvie Vartan. His character on this show has been a recurring role and was cast on Broadway in 2011 then also as The Preacher in “Bonnie & Clyde.”
One of Lanning’s featured songs, accompanied by Ensemble, was “Made in America.,” opening the second act —one that breathes contemporary relevance into the plot, emphasizing the hardship, indifference and economic struggle that made Parker and Barrow into folk heroes. And later, the reprise of “God’s Arms Are Always Open,” along with Blanche, gave chills to all who heard.
And another haunting number in that concluding act that represented our young antagonists perfectly was the rockabilly, “Raise a Little Hell,” a superb trio by Brians, Olsen and Sasik.
Supporting roles were exemplary by virtuallyall cast members: Jennifer Lawson is Emma Parker, Lisa Dyson has a dual role as Cumie Barrow and Governor Ferguson. Jim Skousen plays Henry Barrow. In addition to Sasik’s Ted Hinton, Captain Frank Hamer is portrayed by Rick Wessel. Andrew Shubin is Detective Alcorn and Chris Coon is Deputy Johnson. Sheriff Schmid is played by Greg Nicholas. Casey Michael Johnson is Bud, Brittany Tangermann is Stella, Rachel Saiz is Eleanore, and Jennifer Wilcove plays Trish.
Set by Chuck Ketter made for interesting visuals, with platform decks, numerous slatted and skewed sliding wood panels, elaborately rustic framed wood and metal foregrounds, an upper deck to house the six-piece orchestra, various props including old-farm bathtubs, 1930's service station equipment, jail cells, a trap door on the floor deck which was used for a baptism scene, and even two simulated “picture” cars. Projection by Aaron Rhyne played a revealing part of the show, which had movie elements, slides and supporting scenery shots, adding greatly to the storyline.
Costumes were provided by The Theatre Company and supervised by Merrill Grady and Linda Vick. Wigs were coordinated by Michon Gruber-Gonzales. Lighting Design by Jonathan Daroca of 4Wall Entertainment contained created smoky filtered effects that evoked vintage crime dramas from long ago. Fight Choreographer Matt Merchant marshalled the action along with a firm hand, and fashioned realistic blood-splattered effects as well as the brutal jail scenes.
This show is a sexy thrill-a-minute show and is Highly, Highly recommended! Show times are Friday evenings only, with Saturdays and Sundays having both a matinee and dinner show, and an added show on Thursday, October 11th. Please contact the theatre for suggested arrival, dress code, dinner, and parking. Use discretion with small children due to some gunfire and sexual innuendo. Tickets and further information @ https://www.candlelightpavilion.com/Seating-Prices/Introduction.asp
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