Frank Wildhorn and the La Jolla Playhouse have a history. It was at the playhouse that Dracula: The Musical had its premiere. Now Wildhorn has brought his new musical, based on the infamous lives of Bonnie and Clyde, for a first viewing at the theatre.
Wildhorn's music, with lyrics by Don Black, is a combination of rockabilly, blues, and gospel. I am sure several songs are likely to appear in the popular media. At least the music, which is very melodic and hummable, is varied – Wildhorn’s songs often tend to blend into one style, but not here. The preacher (Michael Lanning) and a gospel chorus lead us through a rousing song called “God’s Arms Are Always Open.” Bonnie (Laura Osnes) and Clyde (Stark Sands) have a few terrific numbers: the touching “I’ll Never Leave You,” “This World Will Remember Me,” “This Never Happened Before,” and “Dyin' Ain't So Bad.” Stark Sands has a beautiful song called "Bonnie." It was nice to hear good songwriting, as opposed to some of the stuff that passes for music these days. The book by Ivan Menchell plays well and even has laughs.
The cast is uniformly excellent: great singers, actors and dancers. Stark and Osnes have a real chemistry, although I found Stark more authentic and less “Broadway” than Osnes. The musical direction and supervision are under the first-rate guidance of John McDaniel. Jeff Calhoun has done a masterful job of staging and directions. The actors emotions' ring true and Calhoun really knows how to stage a musical number.
Whether the show has a life beyond La Jolla remains to be seen. I found Clyde’s brother Buck, played by Clybourne Elder, and his wife Blanche, beautifully played by Mellissa van der Schyff, more interesting than Bonnie or Clyde. They had conflict and were sucked into the Barrow Gang. It seems Blanche was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. In general, musicals about disreputable figures, especially murderers, are simply problematic to stage. It is hard to empathize with characters who are slaughtering people.
Bonnie And Clyde played at the La Jolla Playhouse Nov. 10–December 20th.