Review by Carly Fisher
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow wanted nothing more than to be famous - for what, it almost didn’t matter. At the height of the Great Depression in America, the two quickly developed a reputation for themselves as they resorted to robbery and murder simply to survive. The ill-fated lovers are at the center of Joshua Robson Productions’ latest musical, Bonnie and Clyde, that currently takes to the stage at the Hayes Theatre, as we track their story of love, adventure, crime and ultimately demise.
To jump straight to the best parts of the production - Blake Appelqvist and Teagan Wouters are sensational as the titular characters. Not a note is missed, and more than that, each song in the complex non-traditional score is delivered with conviction, power and vocal chops more impressive than I even imagined when heading into the theatre. Though both Wouters and Appleqvist have certainly been seen on stage before, I hope that this show propels them both further into the limelight and that we see them get more opportunities to take on bigger and bigger shows here in Australia. This is the sort of homegrown talent that we must marvel at and support. Put simply, these are two of the best performances I have seen all year.
Milo Hartill as Blanche Barrow is a certain stand out. With a great command of comic timing and again, excellent vocals, as a recent graduate, she is absolutely one to watch! Hartill is perfectly partnered with Kieran McGrath as Marvin ‘Buck’ Barrow, who also showcases an excellent sense of comedy, paired with great chemistry both with his wife Blanche and brother Clyde.
Darcy Fisher too deserves a special mention both as Young Bonnie and throughout in each Ensemble role she took on. She has a special sparkle on stage that I look forward to seeing more and more of.
As an Ensemble, the cast felt unbalanced with certain performers clearly needing to pull the weight, particularly in the scene work which suffered from some overly caricatured choices that reduced the overall integrity of the production. Similarly, it was disappointing to see such a light use of choreography in a musical that offers so many different musical styles that could have been the base of some really interesting movement pieces that were just lacking.
Simon Greer’s set offers great dynamism to the stage, making the space at the Hayes seem far larger than it is. Greer’s knowledge of the space (In The Heights, Caroline or Change) and how to use it in a compartmentalized manner was clearly an asset to this production. I look forward to seeing what else he creates at the Hayes in shows to come.
Greer’s creative set was mixed perfectly with Director Sam Hooper’s imagination to create some beautiful images, namely a car made up of ‘found items’ including a bed frame, a horn and a series of other rag tag items. Moments like this allowed Hooper’s style as a director to really shine.
Combining gospel, blues and rockabilly music, this show won’t necessarily be for everyone but there are a few songs throughout that sit more traditionally in the musical theatre canon that will certainly please! And of course, as you would expect from the summary above, they are sung to perfection!!
But even whilst mesmerized by the stellar vocals, I couldn’t help but wonder why this was a story that needed to be told? Why did this life of crime and infamy need to be glorified and memorialized in the form of a musical? What is there to learn from them as characters or the show as a whole? Why is this a story that needs to be told? To be blunt, I don’t feel that the book by Ivan Menchatt, Lyrics by Don Black and Music by Frank Wildhorn answered these questions at all.
In an epic case of ‘if you know, you know,’ Broadway fanatics (like yours truly) may be inclined to go and see the show simply to know…what’s wrong with it?! The show closed after only 36 performances despite the star power of its leads - Jeremy Jordan and Laura Osnes - on Broadway. Having heard a couple of those musical theatre belts I mentioned before, I was previously perplexed as to why the show suffered the same ill-fate of its lead characters. Sadly, despite all the great vocals that fantastic cast offer, and all bells and whistles that Joshua Robson gives this show, ultimately, it is the story that left me cold.
The timeline of the show is lackluster and overly dramatic scenes between songs leave the show suffering from a strange flow. The story of two young people who, as a response to not having enough growing up and not having anyone believe in them, turn to crime, is disheartening, though sadly too often truthful. The emphasis put on the need for fame is harrowing. This is not to say that every musical should be happy-go-lucky but even the saddest shows out there generally have some lesson to impart…this story was all gangster and all gloom with very little to take away from it.
Even so, whilst neither the story nor score are memorable, the performances will certainly be ones to remember.
Image Credit: Leslie Grant