A note for anyone unfamiliar with the Depression-era bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow: they died in the end. In the musical Bonnie & Clyde, they die in the beginning, too. A tableau of the couple slumped in their Ford V8 surrounded by gun-toting cops opens the show, thereby ensuring (along with the bullet-riddled set) that everything else is seen through our knowledge of their demise.
Admirers of the (non-musical) 1967 film may be surprised to find the romantic elements of the story largely unsullied. Whereas Arthur Penn’s movie was a scathing portrait, dwelling for example on Clyde’s impotence and the duo’s brutality, the show – with book by Ivan Menchell and generic, rootin’-tootin’ songs by Don Black and Frank Wildhorn – is a paean to two crazy kids who just wanted to be stars.
Frances Mayli McCann is a charming Bonnie, distracted by thoughts of her idol Clara Bow even during moments of high drama, while Jordan Luke Gage is so likable as Clyde, who is as smitten with himself as he is with Bonnie, that he could afford to ramp up the savagery a little. George Maguire is nicely grizzled as Clyde’s devoted brother Buck, and Natalie McQueen has a giddy Megan Mullally-like energy as Buck’s wife, Blanche. Her voice, with its helium highs and guttural growls, is an exemplary comic tool, but she can turn up the heat when need be, as she does in Bonnie and Blanche’s duet, You Love Who You Love.
The cast could scarcely give it more gusto – Ako Mitchell also brings gravitas as the Preacher – but they are hobbled by a script that never works out what it wants to say, or why it’s saying it. Allusions to the pair seeking fame for fame’s sake aren’t enough to render it topical. Thematic dots are left unjoined, so that we discover “folks are calling them heroes” without properly understanding how or why this might be so. “No wonder we’re who they’ll discuss / Yes this world will remember us,” Clyde sings awkwardly. The show, on the other hand, doesn’t linger long in the mind.