‘Bonnie & Clyde’ was jumpin’.
The life of ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ is an infamous tale of passion and violence that has been adapted into a swingin’ musical. Beenleigh Theatre Group has created a lively and energetic production to end their 2019 season with a bang. Director Kaitlyn Carlton has pulled together a strong cast and created a cohesive production that transports audiences to 1930s Texas.
Premiering in 2009, ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ was written by Ivan Menchell with music by Frank Wildhorn and lyrics by Don Black. Menchell notes, “at its core, this musical is a fractured love story [about] a tragic romance.” While most of us know of the infamous duo as bank robbers who got shot in their car, there’s so much more to the musical than any audience member will first realise.
Beenleigh Theatre Group’s show opens with a visual of ‘Bonnie & Clyde’s’ bullet-riddled bodies before returning to meet young Bonnie, who dreams of fame and stardom, and young Clyde, the poor mischief-maker who idolises infamous legends like Billy the Kid and Al Capone. Fast forward a few years and Bonnie and Clyde live on the run. When a store robbery goes wrong and Clyde is once again arrested, the infamy of the couple grows.
Musically, Wildhorn’s score is a fabulous collection of styles ranging from rockabilly jives, country ballads, swinging jazz and powerful gospel tunes. The small band, led by musical director Julie Whiting, worked in perfect balance with the performers, utilising the auditorium floor as an opening orchestra pit. It was a highlight to see a real banjo and mandolin player in community theatre, and all the musicians carried their parts well throughout the opening night performance. Vocally, the cast was quite strong, with standout moments from Connor Hawkins as Clyde Barrow and Stuart Fisher as the Preacher, who’s powerful voice ably carried the stirring and uplifting gospel numbers throughout the show. Credit also to Denyella-Sophia Duncan and Kieran McGinlay who played young Bonnie & Clyde respectively. Both held their own very capably on stage with vocals and characterisation.
The visuals of the show were well imagined by Set Designer, Bradley Chapman, with a simple backdrop of wooden palings around a small rostrum at the back of the stage. The use of simple set pieces, that moved cleanly on and off stage, took the audience to the various locations. Crete Street Theatre is one of the few venues in South East Queensland that has a fly tower, and this was used effectively for the prison scenes. At times, the ‘metal bars’ were a bit unrealistic, as they were made of string rather than a more solid material. The bars were also placed so close together, that when people reached through them, they bars moved. A set highlight, however, was the combination of a couch and the front end of a car, which was used well, particularly with as they incorporated working headlights for effect.
Costume coordinator Marg Oliver has realised some lovely outfits that represent the era well. There were a few minor errors, most notably when Clyde appears with both a belt and suspenders, which is both an uncommon and peculiar fashion choice. However, the aesthetics generally blended well with the production design. Oliver used photos of the time as inspiration.
The technical aspects had moments of excellence. Credit to sound operator Chris Art for his ability to balance the sound in the auditorium between dialogue, band and vocalists. The lighting design was appropriate; however, the use of follow spots without any background support lighting was often jarring, particularly when the operators were not always ready for the next cue. Some lighting cues will hopefully tighten up during the run, but overall it worked well within the proscenium stage.
The cast worked extremely hard to bring great energy to the stage for opening night. All performers were well-rehearsed, confident and capable on stage, demonstrating a strong rehearsal process led by the director. The supporting cast worked well to switch between characters but there were a number of accents across the cast that were laborious or inconsistent.
Brad Kendrick (Buck Barrow) and Katya Bryant (Blanche Barrow) were a believable and adoring couple on stage, with some delightful humour and great ‘married life’ moments which provided a sweet contrast to the volatile whirlwind of Bonnie and Clyde’s relationship.
It was Lauren Conway as Bonnie Parker and Connor Hawkins as Clyde Barrow that stole the show and led the way with their energy, enthusiasm and performances. Conway was visually spot-on as the petite and passionate red-head and brings a strong acting performance to the character. The songs were a bit out of her skill set but she took the audience on a journey through each number in the show. Connor Hawkins was hands-down the stand out performer in this production. His chiseled good looks, strong physique and cheeky charm suited Clyde Barrow beautifully. He then backed this up with a stunning vocal performance and nuanced characterisation that was mesmerising to watch.
‘Bonnie & Clyde’ does romanticise these outlaws, especially when set to colourful and emotive music, but this production provides a fun night out at a well-presented production by Beenleigh Theatre Group.
‘Bonnie & Clyde’ runs at the Crete Street Theatre, Beenleigh, until Saturday, 30 November 2019. Tickets available at Beenleigh Theatre Group’s Website.
Disclaimer: Cast / Production Members working on this show also work for Theatre Haus, but rest assured, we always take steps to ensure our reviews maintain their integrity and are free from bias.