Sarah Crawford reviews Just So Society’s final performance of the semester: Bonnie and Clyde.
Bonnie and Clyde tells the story of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, two lovers from West Dallas who made national headlines in the 1930s when they went on a robbing spree, ultimately killing several police officers. Active during the Great Depression, Bonnie and Clyde were initially acclaimed as heroes for taking action in a time when many felt helpless, but public perception towards them soured in light of their coldblooded killings. Still, after being shot to death by policemen while driving down a state highway, Bonnie and Clyde are often highly romanticised as two of history’s greatest lovers, having died in each other’s arms.
Miles Hurley gave an impressive performance as Clyde Barrow, especially considering the difficult vocal range of his role. Marcella Denby also had a lovely voice and was well-suited to the role of Bonnie Parker. Additionally, Linus Erbach (Buck) and Kerry Gnandt (Blanche) gave emotional, realistic portrayals of their characters. Gnandt’s performance of “That’s What You Call a Dream” was particularly moving. However, what was missing most was chemistry between the two couples. Believable relationships are vital to making an emotional connection with the audience, especially in this show, which relies on the authenticity of Bonnie and Clyde’s whirlwind love story to gain the audience’s sympathy, and ultimately remorse, when the two characters are killed.
Though their compatibility was somewhat improved in the second act, Hurley and Denby’s portrayal of the fast-developing romance fell flat at times. It seemed forced, unrealistic, especially in the romantic numbers “How ‘Bout a Dance?” and “Bonnie”. Erbach and Gnandt’s portrayal of the ‘tough love’ relationship between Buck and Blanche had similar problems. The actors seemed awkward together, uncomfortable and unsure in certain moments. That said, their performances in Buck’s death scene were heartbreaking and genuine. Additionally, Kyra Ho should be applauded for her portrayal of the Preacher. Though typically performed by a male, Ho did a beautiful job and was every bit the role.
Bonnie and Clyde is a modest musical with a small cast, and it lacks the large, show-stopping ensemble numbers typical of most Broadway musicals, relying on intense ballads and a mix of gospel-country music to engage its audience. Because of this, one would think it perfectly suited to the Barron stage. Unfortunately, director Stephanie Boyle failed to use this to her advantage. What could have been an intimate, powerful show instead became a sloppy, cluttered performance. It is not often that a set ruins a musical – sets are usually impressive or practical; either way they serve their purpose. However, the set of Bonnie and Clyde was a nuisance, constantly getting in the way of the performance. The Barron stage was filled with unnecessary furniture, split into five locations: the café where Bonnie works in downstage right, Blanche’s hair salon in downstage left, Bonnie and Clyde’s hideout in upstage left, Buck and Blanche’s house in upstage right, and, finally, a purple couch in centre stage, which served as multiple locations, but primarily Clyde’s car.
Boyle, it seems, did not want to leave anything to the audience’s imagination. Regrettably, the bulky set had the opposite effect, and the audience was often drawn out of the performance by it. On numerous occasions, actors came to centre stage to deliver commanding solo performances, only to be trapped behind the couch. This happened notably when Bonnie took centre stage to deliver the beautiful, heart-wrenching ballad “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad”, and ended up with her legs pressed against the back of the couch, blocked from the audience.
Though the show doesn’t require much choreography, in the few ensemble numbers it has, the choreography was almost absent, likely because the set didn’t leave much room for movement. There was no choreography in “You’re Goin’ Back to Jail”; the ensemble actresses remained sat in their salon chairs as they sang backup; and the choreography in “God’s Arms Are Always Open” and “Made in America” consisted of clapping, occasionally raising a hand to the sky, and standing in a V formation. As far as lighting, the stage was kept in a general wash for much of the show, occasionally spotlighting its actors. It would have completely transformed the show had the production gone in a different direction.
As it was, Bonnie and Clyde lacked drama. The 1930s ‘feel’ was absent, and, as a whole, the show sadly did not have the intensity necessary for an effective performance.
STARS: * * *