The legend of Bonnie and Clyde will never die.
These Depression-era bank robbers have become iconic American anti-heroes over the years. Their legend mashes up the lurid themes of sex, death and greed with a palpable thrill that has not waned in the decades since their last shootout in 1934. Certainly, the 1967 film version starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty retains its power to captivate. Now Frank Wildhorn ("Jekyll and Hyde," "Dracula") delivers his Broadway musical take on their fabled crime spree.
Young, bad and beautiful, these outlaws embody the allure of getting rich quick and leaving a handsome corpse, a motif that just never gets old.
In the "Bonnie & Clyde" musical, in its regional premiere at San Jose Stage, these renegade lovers go on the run one moment, then break into song the next. Directed by Michael Navarra, this gangbusters staging is vibrant enough to almost make you forget the flaws in the musical, which include a draggy second act and an entirely forgettable score. The take-no-prisoners production runs through July 27.
Bonnie and Clyde were destined to dance with death from the start in this version of the tale. Allison F. Rich makes a bright and brassy Bonnie Parker, a small-town waitress who wanted nothing more than fame. Cliff McCormick forces Clyde Barrow's bloodthirsty streak a bit, but he captures the desperation that burns beneath the bravado of this son of a sharecropper. Indeed, there's a thin line between the saints and the sinners in the hardscrabble Dust Bowl universe of the play.
While Ivan Menchell's book wastes too much time with unnecessary exposition, there's no denying the enduring fascination of these two young lovers from West Texas, also known as the devil's back porch, and their date with destiny. Wildhorn's score is a pleasing if unmemorable pastiche of country, blues and gospel music that nails the qualities that make Wildhorn such a divisive figure in musical theater today. If you enjoy his bombastic brand of power ballads, there is reason to cheer here.
Perhaps the most potent aspect of Navarra's production is the palpable chemistry between Rich and McCormick. That heat lends numbers like "Dyin' Ain't So Bad" and "This World Will Remember Us" a distinct sizzle. Indeed, the scenes that draw their strength from the pas de deux between Bonnie and Clyde are the highlights of the show.
They are a match made in coldblooded heaven. She smuggles a gun into prison for him in her garter belt. He takes time to sign autographs at a holdup.
The musical only loses momentum when it takes time out for detours into subjects such as their lives as children, the fate of their aging parents and the conflicted marriage between Clyde's brother, Buck (Will Springhorn), and his god-fearing wife, Blanche (Halsey Varady). There's also little insight gained from the interludes with the childhood Bonnie (Angelina Wahler) and Clyde (Quincy Shaindlin).
Varady shines in the quietly lovely "That's What You Call a Dream," but there are too many digressions from the central theme. Since the musical never tries to give us depth, it should steer clear of tangential subplots and back stories.
All of these scenes feel like filler in a tale of murder and mayhem that ought to careen from the first kiss to the last shootout like a bat out of hell. Onstage as in life, "Bonnie & Clyde" were born to go out with both barrels blazing.
By Frank Wildhorn, Don Black and Ivan Menchell, presented by San Jose Stage Company
Through: July 27
Where: 490 S. First St.,
Running time: 2 hours,
30 minutes; one intermission
San Jose Rep tickets: San Jose Stage will honor unused tickets for San Jose Rep's "Landscape With Weapon" for "Bonnie & Clyde." Contact company for details.