The Barn’s ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ mixes love and desperation in the Depression
AUGUSTA, Mich.–Americans have a history of idolizing the under dogs—those who are down and out on their luck, the ones who make it from nothing, and even the outlaws.
The musical Bonnie and Clyde by Frank Wildhorn, Don Black and Ivan Menchelle takes a look at two Depression-era criminals who captured the imagination of the American public both while they were alive and in romantic portrayals of them in the years that followed. The Barn Theater, which earlier this summer produced Wildhorn’s The Civil War, fully explores this multi-themed musical, in a production directed by Brendan Ragotzy.
Bonnie and Clyde has a depth to it that makes it compelling. It opens with the young Clyde Barrow (Braedon Davis) and Bonnie Parker (Molly Hill) singing about their deepest motivations—a desire for celebrity and to have everyone know their name. Their perceived paths are different. Bonnie wants to be the “It Girl” on picture shows and Clyde wants to be an outlaw.
They are desires that will bring tragedy to both of them, but not before a wild, passionate ride that let’s both of them have a least a touch of dream fulfillment.
It’s also a musical that explores love versus passion, the challenges faced by those the American dream leaves behind, the abuse of power by law enforcement personnel, and the role that religion can play in our lives for good and ill.
Jonnie Carpathos and Melissa Cotton Hunter play the two title characters and they capture the volatile and explosive chemistry between the two outlaws that lead them to risk everything and to take wild risks just so they can be together. They simmer together on stage and have voices that blend beautifully together.
Carpathos has that bad boy charm that makes you want to like him even when he is violent. While he has a total disregard for the law and no desire to ever be reformed, he is devoted to his family and smitten with Bonnie. He creates a tragic hero who is easy to romanticize.
Hunter gives Bonnie a longing for life that is more than what West Dallas could ever offer her. She’s always on the lookout for something better, something more exciting. She has great energy and a beautiful voice that makes the most of both the ballads and the back-and-forth duets.
One of the more interesting characters is played by Samantha Rickard, Clyde’s sister-in-law, Blanche. She is everything that Bonnie is not. She’s committed to living an upright life, of working through hardships and of making do with what she has. Her dreams are of a stable home and family, of a life that appreciates the glory of the small things. Yet, she also has a steadfast love for her husband, a love that runs deeper than the passion of the moment. She’s willing to sacrifice for him, even, ultimately, her own dreams for a peaceful life. She does her best to influence her husband for both their goods.
While it would be easy to play her as a conventional woman who is slave to her times, Rickard makes sure she is more than that–sympathetic–and that the themes she represents are deeply explored and not set aside lightly. She gives Blanche a charisma that is quieter than Bonnie’s and contrasts with her wild nature.
Derek Gulley captures the difficulty of a man torn between both lives in his portrayal of Buck Barrow, Clyde’s brother who idolizes him and is always eager to follow him into trouble. He’s a man who is easily swayed, whether by his brother or his wife, and he lacks his own convictions and dreams. Gulley gives him a “gosh by golly” personality that contrasts nicely with his serious moments.
The musical is set firmly within the Great Depression and its characters struggle with lost farms, soup lines, and little hope for work or the future. It stops short of completely romanticizing the violence and criminal history of the Barrow game, but it does explore why people chose that route and casts an understanding light on those who felt they had few other options.
Matt Shabala conducts the six-piece orchestra, providing the lush music that underscores the whole production. It’s not the kind of musical where you’ll walk out humming any of the numbers, but the music tells the story and is always moving things along and expressing the emotions that overflow with each character.
Samantha Snow continues to work the Barn stage space with skill, providing set pieces that paint the time period while never getting in the way of what the actors need to do. Michael Wilson Morgan did an especially impressive job with the car that Bonnie and Clyde drive, creating a piece that looked realistic and yet could be moved quickly on and off the stage.
Bonnie and Clyde may not ever be one of the commercial hits that draws the huge crowds to the theater, but it does well what musicals are supposed to do. It tells a multi-layered story that leaves the audience thinking about its themes long after the show is over, and does it while being entertaining and providing laughter throughout its two hour run.