By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
The infamous Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow me their fate on a back road made of dirt in Bienville Parish, Louisiana on May 23, 1934 but their deeds and notoriety have lived on since. Their dastardly actions were plastered on the newspapers of the time but, until recently, little was known about the love story between these two outlaws. Though a cautionary love story, this makes for good fodder for a musical theatre piece and Monumental Theatre Company‘s latest offering, Bonnie & Clyde with Music by Frank Wildhorn, Lyrics by Don Black, and Book by Ivan Menchell and Direction by Ryan Maxwell, Music Direction by Paige Rammelkamp, and Choreography by Melrose Pyne takes us back to the dusty Depression of the 1930s and sheds light on this fascinating and poignant story.
Walking into the small space, I’m immediately taking back to the 1930s dust bowl with a minimal but authentic Set Design by Jessica Cancino. As it is a unit set, the locations are implied with simple but thoughtful set pieces that tell me exactly where I am in the scenes with no confusion. Her clever use of silhouettes keeps the piece interesting and adds great value to the production. Overall, Cancino is to be commended for her use of the space and intelligent design.
Like the Set Design, Ethan Henry’s Costume Design fits the piece perfectly. The earth toned color palet keeps everything authentic and it’s a very well thought-out costume plot. The wardrobe for Bonnie Parker is sexy, but not overly sexy and the plain floral print dresses for the ladies work quite well and are coordinated nicely. The gentlemen, with their suspenders, tank-tops, and high waist pants add a realness to the production and the pinstriped suits are spot on. Overall, the Costume Design adds to the piece rather than deflects from it and makes for a great looking production.
Choreography by Melrose Pyne is polished and together and her ensemble keeps it tight. This production hit it out of the ballpark in the gospel inspired number “God’s Arms Are Always Open” and, well, give me a good gospel song and my toes are a-tappin’! Melrose knows the cast and their abilities and matches her choreography to bring out the best in them. Major kudos go out to Pyne for this engaging and entertaining choreography.
Though the orchestra is small, Music Direction by Paige Rammelkamp is near perfect. Her cast was in harmony and on point and the orchestra (consisting of Paige Rammelkamp on Keyboards, Theresa Arnold on Bass, Jess Bauer on Violin, Jack Cohen/Doug Elliott on Trombone, Marque Nelson on Percussion, Rick Peralta on Guitar, and Justin Baughman on Reeds) sounded like a damn recording! They are well rehearsed and give a brilliant performance.
Telling a biographical story on stage is quite a feat but Ryan Maxwell takes the helm of this production and his direction makes for an easy to follow, charming evening of theatre. He keeps his cast moving and the action running smoothly, using his intimate space wisely. Even when the story slows down in Act II, Maxwell keeps it interesting with his blocking and seems to have a strong grasp of this story and what these characters are going through. His casting couldn’t be better and he seems to have pulled the best performance out of each of them. His understanding of minimalism is apparent and choosing a more implied approach rather than spectacle is a wise one.
Moving on to the performance aspect of Bonnie & Clyde, it’s worth mentioning this is a strong ensemble. Though only a few performances are mentioned in this review, every single actor in this ensemble is to be commended for his or her work and for the foundation they give to the entire production, such as the Salon Girls in “You’re Goin’ Back to Jail.”
Jonathan M. Rizzardi takes on the role of Preacher and though he seems a little stiff (which may be a character choice), his vocal work is fantastic. He’s the featured singer on the aforementioned “God’s Arms Are Always Open” and he is no joke in this number. Hitting notes that are sometimes up in the rafters, he brings this number home. Another featured role, Ted Hinton is tackled by Morgan Scott and he seems to embody this down-home boy character making him a likable character even though he is written as somewhat of a nemesis to our main characters. Both actors do well by their characters and add to the story.
Young Bonnie and Clyde are played by Hailey Ibberson and Camryn Shegogue, respectively and they make these parts their own. Vocally, both give confident, seemingly effortless performances.
Taking on the title roles of this piece are Russell Silber as Clyde Barrow and Rachel Barlaam as Bonnie Parker and both are well fitted in their roles. Both are absolute able actors but that’s not to say there were a few minor issues such as chemistry. Though the chemistry is good between Silber and Barlaam, it does seem to come and go and there are few awkward kisses (passionate kisses, mind you) that seem to be more scripted than natural. Vocally, both actors are quite adroit, especially Barlaam with a clear, strong voice that resonates throughout the theatre but at times the performances from both seemed a little lackluster for these two outlaw characters. However, these two do share some great moments such as in the numbers “How ‘Bout a Dance” and “Bonnie”.
Definite highlights of this production of Bonnie & Clyde are and Jana Bernard as Blanch Barrow and Benjamin Stoll as Buck Barrow. These two, together and individually, are powerhouses. Their chemistry seems effortless and their performances are near flawless. Benjamin Stoll embodies the character of Buck Barrow, the conflicted brother of Clyde who finds himself always having to choose between his wife and his brother, and his portrayal of him his completely believable. Vocally, Stoll is phenomenal with a smooth, clear baritone that I could listen to for days and days and shines in the numbers such as “When I Drive” and “Raise a Little Hell (Reprise)”. Jana Bernard, as the confident, opinionated, independent Blanche Barrow, steals every scene she’s in, without really trying, and her portrayal of Blanche Barrow is not only uber-authentic but damn funny. Her presence on stage is strong and she is nothing less than a joy to watch. Her vocal talents are superb and she commands the stage, especially in her featured number, the hilarious “You’re Goin’ Back to Jail”Bernard takes this role and chews it up and makes it her own. Did I mention their chemistry? Totally believable and they work well off each other. Keep an eye on these two in this production.
Final thought… Bonnie & Clyde, a beautifully tragic and cautionary tale, though not so successful on Broadway, is a bonafide hit at Monumental Theatre Company. It is well thought-out, precise and a delight to experience. The ensemble is top-notch, with a few solid standout performances, and the orchestra is spot on. The director and entire ensemble have a strong comprehension on the characters they are playing and the story they are telling making an outing down to Alexandria, Virginia well worth it. Whether you’re familiar with the story of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow or not, you won’t want to miss this production so… run and get your tickets now!
This is what I thought of Monumental Theatre Company’s production of Bonnie & Clyde… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Bonnie & Clyde will play through July 30 at Monumental Theatre Company, Ainsle Arts Center, 3900 West Braddock Road, Alexandria, VA. For tickets, purchase them at the door or purchase them online.
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