Friday, December 16, 2011

Bonnie & Clyde

I'm a heartless bitch, but even I feel a bit bad about giving this necessarily negative review for the new Bonnie & Clyde musical. The coroner has already been called on this one, so if you have your heart set on seeing it, you better hightail it to the Schoenfeld Theatre by December 30.

This musical had so much potential, but I was pretty sure they would screw it up, so expected it to flop. I just wish it had done so in a bigger, fun(nier), more spectacular way. (Like On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, for example.) Well, at least Jeremy Jordan is available for Newsies, now.

Really, the show isn't all bad. It just ... fails to be good. On the plus side: It's chock-full of really talented performers. The design work is great, especially the projections. And everyone sings the crap out of the (overly eclectic, and mostly forgettable) songs. But the main problem is a failure of vision, of focus. The book is terrible, basically, and it has no excuse for not being awesome and really relevant to what's going on in the country right now.

At its core, the story of Bonnie and Clyde is about a celebrity-obsessed country in financial ruin. But instead of focusing on this historical pair of vain, fame-hungry criminals in order to proffer Crucible-like incisive commentary on contemporary issues, this creative team chooses to focus on the love story. Because that's clearly more ... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Remember how I didn't like Laura Osnes in Anything Goes or Grease? I like her even less here. She sings like a dream, but none of the songs are particularly great, so that doesn't really save her performance. And Bonnie Parker had to have been more than a self-centered, lovesick ingenue since she was also an accomplice to bank robbery and murder. But Osnes's performance has no edge or down-and-dirty sex appeal, and her saccharine line deliveries feel so out of place once the bodies start dropping. Some of that must be a failure of Ivan Menchell's writing and Jeff Calhoun's direction, but I'm not sure she could have handled anything darker anyway.

Jeremy Jordan is much better as Clyde Barrow. The boy can SIIIIIING, and he has charm for days. Others have complained about the cloyingly cute young Bonnie (Kelsey Fowler) and Clyde (Talon Ackerman), but I kind of like them. In fact, they have some of the edge that Osnes sorely lacks. Claybourne Elder as Clyde's brother Buck was fine in a kind-of nothing role. And Melissa Van Der Schyff gives a performance better than the one she was handed as Buck's wife, Blanche--and, really, Blanche has the best lines in the show anyway. Unfortunately, I hate country music, so I don't like her songs as well as I should.

My favorite song in the show is definitely the one in the beauty shop about how the women actually prefer the freedom they have while their husbands are in jail. It's hilarious and a bit out of place--and pretty much the only island of joy in this sea of mediocrity that seems to go on and on forever.

I could rip apart other problems in the show, such as how poorly written Bonnie's sad sack not-Clyde suitor is. Or that prison rape jokes are. not. funny. Instead I will bury this nearly dead horse with this bit of praise: I love the use of real photos of the famous duo and newspaper stories about them. I also appreciate how the integration of the projections onto the rustic set leaves parts of the images obscured. That, the precision of the sound effects (i.e., gunshots), and starting the story at the end and then flashing back are the best things about Bonnie & Clyde. (But ending the show right before it catches up to where it began feels anticlimactic, which is really the problem with the show in general. Damn, I guess I really don't know how to end this on a kind note.)

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