Bonnie & Clyde The Musical had a short run in New York over a decade ago, before a concert version at London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane last year, and short run at the Arts Theatre. This week the show re-opened at the Garrick Theatre in the West End for another short run, until 20 May 2023.
The relatively unknown score by Frank Wildhorn, with lyrics by Don Black and a book by Ivan Menchell, ranges from blues, to country, to gospel and more conventional Broadway flair, and the show has moments of high energy magic whilst also touching on the dark reality of depression era America.
The show follows the teenage dreams of two Texan kids, who yearn to escape their run-down lives. In the infancy of their blossoming relationship, Clyde dabbles in low level robbery but as their affections grow, so does the severity of the criminal activity and despite some faint reluctance, Bonnie is sucked in.
The story conveys the notorious couple’s fractious yet tender, enduring connection. At a time of bread lines, soup kitchens and little hope (‘Made in America’ is reminiscent of the Hooverville scene in Annie), being partners in crime and in love allowed society at the time to accept a glamourised image of these lethal criminals.
It the title roles of Bonnie (Frances Mayli McCann) and Clyde (Jordan Luke Gage) the chemistry is palpable. There is an authentic dynamic portrayed through some poignant duets, and exchanges of gentleness when they share their passions for poetry (she) or music (he), which contrasts with their fast-paced illicit activities. McCann’s Bonnie is very likable with her sassy strength of character and relentless resilience.
However, despite being called Bonnie and Clyde this is very much an ensemble show, with some well-crafted roles and stand out performances. Clyde’s brother Buck Barrow (George Maguire) and his wife, Blanche Barrow (Jodie Steele), the latter who runs the local hair Salon, are multi-faceted. Blanche’s obedience to her faith (like many at the time) keeps her in line until her stoicism is weakened, and she follows Buck in a finale raid where the two brothers attempt a high stakes job which ends in tragedy for Buck. Jodie Steele’s vocals are haunting and the duet between Bonnie and Blanche, ‘You Love Who You Love’, is evocative with its whimsical harmonies.
Other highlights include gospel preacher (Dom Hartley Harris) with ‘God’s Arms Are Always Open’ accompanied by some tightly executed choreography from the ensemble.
Not highbrow or high concept, and with occasional moments of weakness and cliché, it is the energy, crisp performances, emotive score and credible chemistry that give this show a certain appeal. Whilst maybe not a crime to miss it, you may be robbing yourself of some moments of sheer brilliance and a glimpse of pure romantism in the broadest sense.
Review by Louise Benham
Book tickets to Bonnie & Clyde at the Garrick Theatre