Everybody loves a hero but frequently that designation is given to those who least deserve it.
Such is the case with Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, two Texans who captured the country’s imagination during the “Public Enemy Era” — 1931-35 — for their string of robberies and murders.
Their lives were fictionalized in the now-classic 1967 movie and, more recently, in the 2011 musical, both named for the leading characters.
The theatrical version, “Bonnie & Clyde,” opened Tuesday evening in The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI., under the direction of Brendan Ragotzy. It’s two-week run will be about half the length of its tenure on Broadway.
From the reaction of the opening night audience, however, “Bonnie & Clyde” is much more popular with audiences out of NYC.
By all indications, it should be at least a popular vehicle if not a medium blockbuster. Music is by Frank Wildhorn whose credits include “Jekyll & Hyde,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel” and “The Civil War.” His melodic score is the best thing about this ode to gangsters.
The Barn cast, headed by Melissa Cotton Hunter as Bonnie and Jonnie Carpathiosas as Clyde with Derek Gulley as his brother, BuckBonnie, Clyde, and Samantha Rickard as Buck’s wife, Blanche, is vocally strong.
Each has a solo spot in which to define his/her character and each makes the most of it. Bonnie and Clyde even have pre-teen personas, sung by Molly Hill and Braedon Davis, respectively. Early on these two establish the driving motives for their adult characters: she wants to be in the movies and he is determined to prove that he can do anything with a gun.
Sadly, neither gets to fulfill these childhood dreams.
Amid the come-and-go of scenic designer Samantha Snow’s busily moving “walls,” appropriately resembling the clapboard which was a primary building material during the Great Depression, the boundaries of their lives is mixed with several moveable prison “cells.” These encircled the lives of those who struggled to eke out a living when there was barely a living to be had.
There is no doubt that the lives of Bonnie and Clyde (she got first billing because “nothing rhymes with Clyde”) have all the ingredients for a fascinating story,
The problem here is not with Wildhorn’s score, although it contains nothing like the showstoppers in ”J&H” (“This Is the Moment”) or “Pimpernel” (“Into the Fire”), but with the choppy book by Ivan Menchelle which jumps from place to place and time to time making it difficult to form any kind of timeline or connection with the characters.
Carpathios swaggers in the best Jimmy Cagney “Public Enemy”-style and Ms. Hunter as the would-be “writer-singer-actress” is most appropriately needy. Their coupling is instant, as is their realization that this relationship can only come to a tragic end (“Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad”).
According to this scenario, both have close ties to their mothers, while Blanche Barrow is the only one who advocated turning themselves in (“You’re Goin’ Back to Jail”), especially Buck. He is torn between his brother and his wife and, like all the characters here, makes the wrong choice.
One of the best voices in the show belongs to Miguel Ragel Wilson as Texas Deputy Ted Hinton, who loves Bonnie and advises her against the jailbird Clyde. A tall baritone who, height-wise, would be at home on the basketball court, he drew extended and well-deserved applause for “You Can Do Better Than Him.”
There is little chorus work in “Bonnie and Clyde,” with most coming from the church/gospel scenes with Preacher (Patrick Hunter) leading the ensemble in “God’s Arms Are Always Open.”
For those who know nothing about the story of Bonnie and Clyde, the opening may be a bit bewildering, but, as they say, what goes around comes around and
it certainly does for Bonnie and Clyde.
BONNIE AND CLYDE plays through July 15 in the theater on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call ((269) 731-4121.