Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of Nunsense
Bonnie & Clyde follows real-life outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who became famous for robbing banks, stores, and gas stations across several states in the South and the Midwest during the early 1930s. Parker and Barrow came from poor families and turned to a life of crime as a result of the Great Depression. They became minor celebrities due to their exploits and from the scandalous situation of being unmarried 20-year-olds on the run from the law. They became the focus of a manhunt due to the robberies and the policemen and citizens they murdered while committing the crimes, and their gang included Clyde's older brother Buck and Buck's wife Blanche. The couple were ambushed and killed in 1934 when Parker was just 23 and Barrow was 25.
The book by Ivan Menchell covers many of these escapades, wisely starting with the ambush, then going back in time to when the pair were pre-teens with hopes and dreams. It also shows how they met and what started them on their life of crime. Menchell's well-crafted book doesn't feature anything that isn't additive to the plot and also allows for the characters to develop naturally, with dialogue scenes that organically move into and out of the songs. There are also many funny lines, which help offset the more serious moments. Wildhorn's score, with lyrics by Don Black, is one of his best and features a range of musical styles, from country to bluegrass and gospel as well as a few soaring musical theatre ballads that are Wildhorn's signature.
The only slight downside to the musical is that, while it never attempts to lay blame on anyone else as to why Bonnie and Clyde did what they did, the two main characters are cold-blooded killers you don't naturally want to root to see succeed, even if we are shown what their growing up period did to them. Fortunately, the musical doesn't make any excuses for them or what they did and because of that it does a fairly good job of getting the audience to feel for them.
Limelight's cast is very good, with exceptional performances by the show's two main female actresses, Rachel Nathan as Bonnie and Paige Shanks as Blanche, and powerful portrayals by Vance Wolf Cook and Vincent Farley as Clyde and Buck, respectively. All four are very believable as these real people, with natural line delivery and passionate performances that allow us to see the desperation they all feel, which helps to explain how they each ended up in the life they have chosen. Nathan and Cook convey a palpable passion and plenty of heat in their connection with each other and in their constant desire to find a life filled with excitement. Nathan does a beautiful job of showing the conflicted nature Bonnie sometimes feels in her desire for Clyde, even as she realizes that what they are doing is illegal. And Nathan's singing voice is superb. Cook often delivers his lines and lyrics with a growl that elicits the fierceness and unease he feels.
With an excellent accent and spot-on line delivery, Shanks is excellent as Blanche, the God-loving woman who also loves her man, even if he sometimes does the wrong thing. Her singing voice is polished and lovely. The duet she shares with Nathan, "You Love Who You Love," is a major highlight of the production. Farley instills Buck with an abundance of conflicted feelings but also a huge amount of love for his wife. Liam Delgado does a good job as Ted, the local policeman who has a crush on Bonnie and who often finds himself in the middle of the action. In the supporting cast, Zoey Hart is quite touching as Bonnie's mother; Tyler Berger does a great job in his few solo spots as the preacher; Shayla Forero and Adele Johns shine as Young Clyde and Young Bonnie, respectively; and Paige Erdmann, Kayla King, and Kaitlyn Woodward add pops of humor as three women in Blanche's salon.
Directors Van Rockwell and Emma England have done a great job of ensuring the entire cast deliver committed, fleshed-out performances, with every dialogue scene ringing true. There are many locations and scenes in the show and Rockwell and England wisely use the aisles and sides of their outdoor space. They also keep the show moving along with swift set changes. England's set, costume, and hair designs are quite good, with the use of wood slat walls for the sets that help echo the time of the show and period perfect costumes and wigs. England's media design uses projections of archival photos as well as some video elements to bring an authenticity to the production. England and Michael Snyder's music direction derives soaring vocals from the leads and, while the score is fairly tricky, there are only a few times when the casts vocals are slightly not up to the challenge. The lighting by Stacy Walston paints Limelight's outdoor space with deep blues and purples, and Jorge Forero has created a fairly effective car that is used in several scenes. My only quibble is due to the delayed lighting cues at the performance I attended and the inadequacies of the body mics, which caused dialogue and lyrics to be missed. I'm hopeful these are only slight issues that can be fixed for the remaining performances.
Bonnie and Clyde may be a dark, adult musical but it's also one that's based on real people who had hopes and dreams, just like any young person has. It may not seem like a perfect musical for a youth theatre to produce, but with intriguing characters who are only a couple of years older than the teenagers in the cast, rich dialogue, and a wide range of musical styles, it is actually a perfect show for an older teen cast to present. With a talented cast, including two superb main female performances, Limelight's production is a winner.
Bonnie & Clyde runs through May 1, 2021, at Limelight Performing Arts, 511 W Guadalupe Rd Suite 12, Gilbert AZ. While all remaining performances are sold out, you can be asked to be put on a wait list. Information at ll-pa.org/ or by calling 480-545-1492.
Direction/Properties/Sound Design: Emma England & Van Rockwell