Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri
Should you sit for over two hours to get to the end of a musical that tells the story of two people whose fate you already know?
Yes, you should.
In its first full-length musical, Theatron Productions is presenting Bonnie and Clyde at the Tri-Cities Opera Center in Binghamton. The two-act hybrid outlaw rock opera/swing band-era work shows clear influences of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Benny Goodman and even Bon Jovi, which, for people with varied tastes in music, keeps things interesting.
Just you never mind that the play glorifies and romanticizes the relationship between a really bad, bad boy, Clyde Barrow, and his gullible gal pal, Bonnie Parker. There’s another story here somewhere, and it’s less about them than it is about Clyde’s brother, Buck, and his wife, Blanche. But more on that later.
The book is by Ivan Menchell, with lyrics by Don Black and music by Frank Wildhorn. (Wildhorn’s other musicals include Jekyll and Hyde and The Scarlet Pimpernel.) Some of the script is eye-rollingly predictable, but Theatron’s actors do as well with the material as any comparable group could.
The large cast is led by Danica Clair as Bonnie and Josh Smith as Clyde. Clair’s soaring voice and sincere interpretation of a frankly unsympathetic character are exhibited generously throughout the show. He has appeared locally in Putnam County Spelling Bee, Young Frankenstein, Les Miserables and Next to Normal. She is new to Binghamton audiences and reminded me a little on opening night (July 10) of Martha Raye — her smile is that wide. Her voice, though, is really lovely, while Raye’s, I recall, was gravelly. When, in a duet in the second act, Clair and Smith reprise their opening numbers — her “Picture Show” about dreams of being like (silent star) Clara Bow and his “This World will Remember Me” — you will appreciate the casting of these two strong voices.
The Opera Center is a better rehearsal than performance space. In this venue, all voices compete mightily with the six-piece pit orchestra, led by Minneapolis transplant Sonny Dewitt. Each instrument and principal voice is amped to the rafters, occasionally causing feedback. But the orchestral skill of the musicians under Dewitt’s direction, is great, with Karen Clark on piano/keyboards, Doug Diegert on fiddle, Eric Bill on reeds, Burt Mueller on guitar, Ryan Jackson on bass and Mikah Neiss on drums.
Matt Edlind is believably cast as Clyde’s ne’er-do-well but not murderous brother. Buck wants to reform but has misplaced loyalties. Annie Fabiano plays his wife, the sanctimonious Blanche Barrow. I found her and Buck Barrow’s partnership infinitely more compelling and conflicted than Bonnie and Clyde’s, neither of whom elicit much sympathy at all. Let’s face it: They were killers nine times over.
The multi-talented Fabiano is a pleasure to watch and listen to. She gives a powerful performance is powerful as a woman who loves her husband, despite his ill-advised attachment to his brother, and who wants her life to be uneventful and holy, but ultimately can’t detach. When Blanche and Bonnie sing “You Love Who You Love,” Fabiano and Clair’s harmonies alone are worth the cost of admission. I would go again just to hear them sing together.
Mari Lewis does a really fine job as Bonnie’s mother, Emma. Rounding out the cast: Eli Carlin as Ted Hinton, who hopes to court Bonnie but is on the wrong side of the jail cell to be exciting enough for her; Rick Kumpon and Jimmy Massar as Sheriff Schmidt and Deputy Bud, who are like the gang who couldn’t shoot straight; Austin Kiley as the Bible-thumpin’ preacher who can’t save ’em all; Annie Graham, Tiffany Jhingoor,and Anne Glasgow as Blanche’s friends Stella, Trish, and Eleanor, respectively; Rich Bocek and Dallas Elwood as Captain Hamer and Deputy Johnson, and last, but not least, two more established members of the local theater community, Lynette Daniels and Chris Nickerson, as Clyde and Buck’s clueless parents, Cumie and Henry Barrow.
The whole cast is fine, and the actors appear comfortable enough on the stage, despite its physical limitations. Caitlin McNichol, whom we usually see on the stage, handled the lighting for this show, with Howie Bell doing sound, also a challenge. Cast members Fabiano and Graham designed the costumes, which work well for Depression-era America.
The simple set — mostly tables, chairs and prison bars — is contained by a proscenium arch. The one other static piece, designed and built by Chris Duffy, represents the 1934 Ford V-8 in which Bonnie and Clyde met their violent and ignominious end. I found its constant presence on the stage a bit distracting. My eye kept getting drawn back to it when the action was happening elsewhere, which is to its designer’s credit, I suppose, for its authenticity, but it needed to be more an adjunct to the action, not its centerpiece.
Bonnie and Clyde is directed by Theatron’s energetic artistic director, Mike Meaney. He explained in a recent WBNG-TV interview that this is the local debut of the show, which premiered in California in 2009 and had only a short run on Broadway.
IF YOU GO: Remaining performances at the Opera Center, 315 Clinton St., Binghamton, will be 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday (July 17 and 18) and 2 p.m. Sunday (July 19). Tickets at $20 (students/seniors, $15) can be reserved at firstname.lastname@example.org.