By Daniel Skora
Thieves, scoundrels, and villains of every stripe can often achieve a notoriety that would otherwise be unavailable had they kept instead to the straight and narrow. All it takes for miscreants to achieve fame is to have their crimes plastered all over the front pages of newspapers. Having a catchy or melodic name helps, too. From Jesse James to Al Capone, there’s always been a wrongdoer whose evil deeds captured the eye of the public and turned them into celebrities.
Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker robbed and murdered their way through several Midwestern states in the early 1930’s. More than a dozen men, nine of them law enforcement officers, were killed during their crime spree, though it’s believed that it was Clyde who did all the killing. Their exploits and the photos they took of each other brandishing firearms like they were a fashion accessory appeared in all the papers. The public took notice and the two became instant legends. The romance with the pair that began 85 years ago continues with “Bonnie & Clyde A New Musical” now appearing at The Encore Musical Theatre in a production that remains faithful to their story.
There are enough interesting details in the lives of Bonnie and Clyde that selecting just a few would be sufficient to make them both intriguing characters. Bonnie’s father died when she was four and she grew up infatuated with the movies and the stardom that came with it. She married a ne’er-do-well before she was sixteen and showed her sensitive side with a fondness for writing poems. Not incidental to her mystique and a fact borne out by the many photographs taken of her, is that she looked good in a hat.
Clyde took an early liking to guns and as a teenager had frequent brushes with the law. He served jail time for theft, robbery and stealing cars. An extended incarceration in prison led to his killing a fellow inmate who had sexually assaulted him. By all accounts, he emerged from prison a hardened criminal, the road to serious crime spread out before him.
The musical, by Ivan Menchell (book), Don Black (lyrics), and Frank Wildhorn (music) and The Encore’s production covers it all: Bonnie and Clyde’s attraction to each other, their families, their exploits, the resulting violence, and the social and economic conditions of the times. First performed on the stage in 2009, the show opened on Broadway two years later where it ran for only a short time. The twenty or so numbers included in the show are an assortment of blues, country & western, and pop melodies. The Encore’s production is both entertaining and engrossing. Directed by Ron Baumanis, it features a talented cast headed by Adam Woolsey as Clyde and Mahalia Greenway as Bonnie. Also featured are Peter Crist as Clyde’s brother and partner in crime Buck, and Elizabeth Jaffe as Buck’s longsuffering wife Blanche.
For the most part, the stark, nondescript set by designer Daniel C. Walker remains unobtrusive. It’s up to the lighting, also by Walker, costumes, by Sharon Larkey Urich, and props, by Prop Master Anne Donevan, to establish atmosphere. Actual photographs from the era projected onto the backdrop lend historical authenticity to the story. In one nifty piece of theatrical ingenuity, mug shots taken of the real Clyde and Buck while they were being photographed and fingerprinted before going to jail, are shown at the same time the actors who play them go through the same process on stage.
The songs not only go to defining the characters but complement the storyline as well. They include “Raise a Little Hell”, “The World Will Remember Us”, and “Too Late To Turn Back Now”. The most affecting number is “You Love Who You Love”, sung by the beautiful voices of Greenway and Jaffe.
The live music, featuring keyboards, fiddle, guitar, bass and percussion, is conducted by Tyler Driskill. Others in the ensemble cast of 15 include Andrew James Buckshaw as the officer who takes a fancy to Bonnie, Emily Rogers as Bonnie’s mother, Tim Brayman as the Sheriff, and Rob Roy and Thalia V. Schramm. A special shoutout goes to Lauren Norris who plays Cumie Barrow, the mother of the Barrow brothers, as well as several ensemble roles, and whose acting and voice abilities make her a standout and deserving of a future starring role.
“Bonnie & Clyde” and The Encore’s production is an engaging bit of theater. The show takes a compelling look at two provocative characters at a pivotal time and place in American history. The show’s faults are few. They include the occasional inclination to be melodramatic, as in the number “God’s Arms are Always Open” sung by a preacher (Daniel A. Helmer) and the ensemble cast. Most glaring is the show’s ending. The exclamation point to the lives of Bonnie and Clyde are their deaths in the bullet-riddled Ford Coupe they traveled in. “Bonnie & Clyde” opens with the two tooling down the road in their vehicle, a foreshadowing of the outcome that will occur at the end. Despite the violence that occurs throughout the show, the ending chooses only to allude to the inevitable, projecting grainy black and white photographs taken at their demise. It’s a missed opportunity for spectacle, for drama, and the opportunity to provide that exclamation point to the lives of two people who became legends in American culture.
“Bonnie & Clyde” runs through October 25th. For tickets and information, call The Encore Theatre box office at 734-268-6200 or go online at www.theencoretheatre.org. The Encore Musical Theatre is located at 3126 Broad Street in the historic village of Dexter. Take I-94 west and exit at Baker Street.