Everyone knows the story- or at least some of the story- surrounding Bonnie and Clyde, famous outlaws who went on a bank-robbing and shooting rampage in the 1930s. However, NRACT’s production of Ivan Menchell’s Bonnie and Clyde, under the direction of Jeri Lynn Schulke, reveals a more sympathetic and (mostly) honest take than the myths that commonly circulate about this ill-fated duo, without unfairly glamorizing the brutality of their crimes.
Since most people are aware of how these characters meet their demise, it’s not a spoiler to say that the show begins with a very-dead Bonnie (Reanna Kicinski) and a very-dead Clyde (Ty Myatt) slumped in their car. This image, however, quickly fades to the duo back before they knew one another, back to when they were just small children with dreams.
Young Bonnie (Julia Clayton) is revealed to have once been a little girl idolizing actress Clara Bow, while young Clyde (Adele Baldina) becomes a little boy longing to be like Billy the Kid. Schulke’s razor-sharp directing and staging make the quick transition into a slightly older Bonnie (Isol Young) and the “passage of time” effect effortless.
During these fast scenes, the muted colors of the set and the run-through way in which these changes happen is perfectly reminiscent of the Western films so popular in the time in which real-life Bonnie and Clyde executed their crimes, serving as a nice added-in nuance. The child actors portraying the younger versions of the criminals, especially Clayton, who has stellar stage presence, also do a great job of making these characters sympathetic and relatable from the start with their dreamy portrayals.
As the musical jumps to a later time- a time when our ne’er-do-well characters are as grown up as they are going to get- viewers finally get to watch the dubious duo meet and interact. Immediately, it is evident that Myatt and Kicinski share a strong onstage chemistry, one that works well for making the characters more human, an important facet of the script.
Myatt is slyly charming and also awful in all the right ways in his roughened portrayal of Clyde. And Kicinski truly shines here. Looking every bit the “ravishing redhead” the script purports her character to be, the young actress dreams and charms her way into creating a Bonnie who is entirely sympathetic, understandable, and who perfectly exemplifies the warning that lies within the script: THIS is who we all can become if we focus only on fame and selfish desires.
The leads are not the only actors that make their presence known. NRACT’s production has a strong, well-directed ensemble cast, as well as perfectly cast supporting actors. Daryl Ray Carliles creates a “Buck,” Clyde’s follower of a brother, who is too stupid, oddly sweet, and childlike to be hated. This serves as a nice counterbalance to Lauren Tompkins’ no-nonsense portrayal of Blanche, Buck’s love-sodden, religious wife. And, speaking of love-sodden, Zach Meeker, who has a voice made for the stage and a special sweetness in his portrayal, nails the role of Ted Hinton, the young cop who is just as entrapped by his love for Bonnie as she is by her love for Clyde.
The production also features fun choreography, great delivery of the script’s powerful and thought-provoking songs, and some really nice set usage. Particularly effective is the opening built into the stage, which serves as both a baptismal font and, later, in a clever juxtaposition, as a burial plot.
In a time in which shootings are happening almost daily, a staging of such a musical could almost be deemed irresponsible. However, NRACT’s production understands the story and brings to life the ramifications that it subtly implies, making this not an inappropriate choice but, instead, a very apropos one. While there are for sure, some comical moments, this production also asks viewers to think about their own longings, how those longings might affect the world around them if acted upon, and how to understand and perhaps even forgive, though not excuse, those who fall victim to the pursuit of their own wants and ignorances. This is a musical that, despite providing plenty of laughs, seeks after a change in the world. And, while it would be all too easy to glaze over these important forebodings of the script, this production brings them to full life for anyone who watches with an alert mind.
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