BWW Reviews: Texas Premiere of BONNIE AND CLYDE Hits Its Mark
Sometimes going against the grain pays off. Sadly, for the real life Bonnie and Clyde, going against the grain by becoming bank-robbing outlaws ended in their demise, but for the McCallum Fine Arts Academy and their musical production of Bonnie & Clyde, doing something daring and different is far more fruitful. Even when compared to productions starring more experienced, seasoned performers, Bonnie & Clyde is an exceptional accomplishment.
The musical-with book by Ivan Menchell, lyrics by Don Black, and music by Frank Wildhorn-tells the true story of Bonnie Parker (Hannah McEvilly) and Clyde Barrow (Jacob Roberts-Miller) and how they became two of the most wanted criminals of the 1930s. Like most of Frank Wildhorn's other shows, this one didn't succeed on Broadway (it closed after 33 previews and 36 regular performances), but despite being a Broadway flop, the show features Wildhorn's best work. While his other shows such as Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlett Pimpernel, and Wonderland can be described as messy at best, this one has a clear vision and sound. The score is a catchy concoction of different musical styles, including country, bluegrass and gospel with relatively few of Wildhorn's patented pop power ballads. Menchell's book is quite strong as well. He never vilifies or glorifies the central characters, and while there are hints that their upbringing in the Great Depression and their dreams of glory may have contributed to their life of crime, Menchell never fully connects the dots, allowing the audience to come to their own conclusions as to why Bonnie and Clyde did what they did.
Director Joshua Denning does a fantastic job of bringing the characters and dustbowl setting to life. The characters and relationships are pinpoint sharp, and as scenic designer, Denning has created a claustrophobic environment which constantly traps Bonnie and Clyde. Costume designers Sara Walls and Dominoe Jones, both high school students, provide the production with countless dustbowl style outfits, and their recreation of Bonnie's iconic burgundy dress and jacket is a very clever touch.
Hannah McEvilly and Jacob Roberts-Miller are astonishing as Bonnie and Clyde. Roberts-Miller gives Clyde a down home, southern drawl and an almost rock star, Mick Jaggerish swagger, both of which enhance the character. He also plays the role as the occasionally arrogant and constantly determined ringleader of the Barrow clan. As Clyde says, "Everyone's got dreams, but I've got plans," and his plans are the driving force of the show and the impetus for the downfall of Bonnie and Clyde. As Clyde's sweetheart and accomplice, McEvilly gives Bonnie an unexpected sweetness and innocence. Her looks and voice may be more suited for a Disney princesses or classic musical theater ingénue which makes McEvilly a seemingly unconventional but absolutely perfect choice for the role. After all, the real Bonnie Parker was a hopeless romantic and a poet, two aspects of her personality which the show brilliantly brings to the forefront. As a team, the chemistry between Roberts-Miller and McEvilly is undeniable. The real Bonnie and Clyde followed each other to their death, and the partnership between these two is just as clear and strong.
Connor Barr and Sage Stoakley are equally as strong as Buck and Blanche Barrow, Bonnie and Clyde's foils and partners. Barr plays Buck as a pushover whose easily manipulated by his brother, Clyde, and his wife, Blanche, and though he may not have as much material to work with, Barr makes the most of every moment he has on stage. As Blanche, Stoakley milks the show's only comedic role. She's hysterical in the first act as she plays up Blanche's judgmental, religious side, but she's equally good in the second act when she gets more serious, meaty material to work with, and her voice is gorgeous. Two of the cast's supporting members also give fantastic performances. Loretta Adams turns the character of Bonnie's mother into more than a worried parent, and Kendrick Knight is wonderful as Ted Hinton, a policeman who pines for Bonnie but ultimately must bring her and Clyde down.
While it may be unconventional for a High School to receive the Texas Premiere of a new Broadway musical, McCallum Fine Arts Academy is by no means a conventional High School. Their student performers and designers as just as professional as anyone else, and as complex and difficult as Bonnie and Clyde is, the cast and team at McCallum pulls it off. Like the characters at its core, Bonnie and Clyde is daring, bold and fearless as it breaks from the status quo.