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Bonnie & Clyde

Laura Osnes and Stark Sands give perfect performances as the 1930s outlaws in this excellent new musical at the La Jolla Playhouse.

By San Diego
Laura Osnes and Stark Sands in Bonnie & Clyde
(© Craig Schwartz)
Laura Osnes and Stark Sands in Bonnie & Clyde
(© Craig Schwartz)
The story of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, the infamous 1930s thieves and murderers whom the newspapers and the readers of their day made into near heroes, has been told many times, most notably the 1967 film with Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in the title roles. Fortunately, book writer Ivan Menchell, composer Frank Wildhorn, and lyricist Don Black -- the creators of the excellent new musical Bonnie & Clyde now premiering at the La Jolla Playhouse starring Laura Osnes and Stark Sands in the title roles -- have wisely chosen not to try to emulate the film in their retelling of the tale.

Instead, the musical concentrates on Bonnie's deep longing for her mother, Emma (the always amazing Mare Winningham) and Clyde's abiding affection for and devotion to his older brother Buck (Claybourne Elder) and to his downtrodden parents. The result is a deeply affecting story set to some soaring music -- and a show that is likely to be a hit.

Menchell's book economically tells the pair's story, starting with Bonnie's frustration with small-town Texas life (beautifully essayed in the opening number "Short Order World") to her fateful meeting with Clyde and their immediate attraction. At age 20, these two wild and crazy kids are out for thrills that can't be found at home. Clyde robs stores and makes headlines and is eventually joined by recently paroled brother Buck and his disapproving wife Blanche (Melissa van der Schyff). Soon, with better armaments, they are robbing banks.

Jeff Calhoun's fluid direction is never overly showy, but it is very cinematic in style with freeze frames and jump cuts. He stages the famous Joplin, Missouri shootout with the police to stunning results with great effects engendered by designer Michael Gilliam's lighting and Brian Ronan's sound design. And while that scene succeeds brilliantly, the creators make a smart decision in not recreating the climatic car ambush that ended the pair's lives. Instead Aaron Rhyne's projections (well detailed throughout) show newspaper headlines and even film clips of the event while the doomed twosome reprises their anthem "The World Will Remember Us."

Wildhorn's score contains his usual power ballads, along with some bluegrass and gospel numbers, and Black's lyrics are more lyrical that those he has written in the past for Andrew Lloyd Webber's compositions. There are two outstanding duets -- "You Can do Better than Him" and "You Love Who You Love" -- and the overall score perfectly embodies both the time and place of the story.

The show's cast is perfection. Osnes excels as Bonnie, a girl with an itch who finally finds the man who can scratch it perfectly. Sands' Clyde is all tender bravado with a heavy whiff of braggadocio. Van der Schyff provides wonderful comic relief as Blanche, but she is never a caricature, Elder makes a perfect foil for her as the devoted yet restless Buck, and Chris Peluso adds strong support as Ted, the deputy sheriff who has long been smitten with Bonnie.


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