The story of Bonnie Parker (1910-1934) (Frances Mayli McCann) and Clyde Barrow (1909-1934) (Jordan Luke Gage) could, in some respects, be a narrative for our times: the police is underfunded and people are struggling to get by on their current earnings. Parker, like so many these days, dreams of stardom, and her signing autographs when a robbery of a bank with no money in the safe is in progress (as this show would have it) is something I could imagine those who crave notoriety one way or another would do today. They would probably film the scene of the crime and upload a video to social media, but then someone like Barrow might have stopped them, just as he dissuades Parker from sending photographs of herself to newspaper editors for publication – they are, after all, on the run from the law.
There are more laughs than one might reasonably expect from a show about a criminal couple in the Great Depression, from Parker and Barrow – okay, fine, I’ll call them Bonnie and Clyde – gently teasing one another, to the more acerbic wit of Clyde’s sister-in-law Blanche (1911-1988) (Jodie Steele). Steele’s Blanche stands out (and in a cast as talent-heavy as this one, that’s saying something) both in a noticeably more intense and convincing southern American accent and her overall stage presence. She somehow makes a devoutly religious woman someone I wanted to hear from, not in the hope of being converted to anything, but for a different perspective that was bound to be as unflinching as Clyde’s own commitment to his own (and Bonnie’s) cause.
Some good variation in the styles and tempo of the musical numbers, particularly in the first half, helps to maintain interest. The harmonies between Clyde and his brother Buck (1903-1933) (George Maguire) in ‘When I Drive’ are sublime, as are the ones between Bonnie and Blanche in ‘You Love Who You Love’. It’s not until after the interval, however, before the audience actually gets to see a Bonnie and Clyde robbery take place – some earlier scenes concentrate instead on time served in prison (by Clyde but not by Bonnie, the latter promising to visit “Every day! Every day!”). Clyde was treated grimly, and his retaliation was grimmer still: it’s not a spoiler, I don’t think, to say an American story involved guns.
The show has made a comeback to the London stage at least in part by public demand, having completed a successful run at the Arts Theatre in 2022. It has something of a cult following amongst theatregoers, having won ‘Best New Musical’ at the publicly balloted 2023 WhatsOnStage Awards but not even nominated in the same category at the panel judged 2023 Olivier Awards. Anyway, on the larger Garrick Theatre stage, the choreography (Alexzandra Sarmiento and Annie Guy) has been spruced up, most notably in the tubthumping gospel number ‘God’s Arms Are Always Open’. The video design (Nina Dunn) is as helpful as they are stunning, placing each scene in its proper context in a show that likes to change scenes often. Granted, the projections leave little to the imagination, but that’s hardly a cause for complaint.
The characters of Young Bonnie and Young Clyde, previously played by child actors, have been dispensed with, though the vast majority of their dialogue is retained, spoken by their adult characters. The difference is negligible, in the sense that anyone seeing the show for the first time would be unlikely to be inclined to think having even younger versions of twentysomethings on stage is strictly necessary. Dom Hartley-Harris’ Preacher, meanwhile, has the charismatic swagger of a televangelist (without, thankfully, any evidence of the sleaze and corruption such people are renowned for). Robbie Scotcher’s (prison) Guard is borderline maniacal, contrasting well with Cleve September’s nuanced Ted Hinton (1904-1977), deputy sheriff in Dallas County.
Slicker than before, the show has not lost the rapport with the audience it had in its earlier, considerably more intimate incarnation. This bigger, bolder, better production is worth a shot, and few will feel robbed after seeing it.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Two small-town kids from the middle of nowhere became the biggest folk heroes in all of America. They craved adventure and each other. Their names were Bonnie and Clyde.
Winner of BEST NEW MUSICAL at the 2023 WhatsOnStage Awards, Frances Mayli McCann and Jordan Luke Gage return for a limited West End season of the cult-sensation BONNIE & CLYDE THE MUSICAL following a sell-out run at The Arts Theatre.
Featuring music by Tony® nominee Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll & Hyde), lyrics by Tony® and Oscar® winner Don Black (Aspects of Love, Sunset Boulevard), a book by Emmy® Award nominee Ivan Menchell, and directed by Nick Winston. Fearless, shameless, and alluring, Bonnie & Clyde is the electrifying story of love, adventure and crime that captured the attention of an entire nation.
Bonnie and Clyde Tickets
Garrick Theatre, London
4 Mar 2023 – 20 May 2023
2 hours 30 minutes including interval