Bonnie and Clyde the Musical review and star rating: ★★★★
Bonnie and Clyde would be proud. The murderous gangsters from the Great Depression era loved a good sing song. They’d famously leave trails of movie magazines and musical instruments behind them as they robbed banks and shot people, constantly on the run and existing in some kind of romantic purgatory. They had higher dreams than violence, but ended up infamous instead of famous, shot dead in their car in the 1930s.
Bonnie and Clyde the musical is an almost absurdly frothy homage to the deadly duo, both of whom were early adopters to the ‘loveable rogue’ gangster trope associated with Al Capone and mobsters like Bugsy Siegel. Admired for their sense of style, they were glamorous while they did awful things.
Thought a musical about murder might not be suitable for children? Ah, don’t be such a prude! There’s a couple of loud bangs, but otherwise, Ivan Menchell’s writing cavorts lightly through Bonnie and Clyde’s tale, from when they first meet in working class Texas when Clyde’s flirting with life on the wrong side of the tracks.
There are spellbinding songs and some incredibly classy lead performances. Jordan Luke Gage is as near-perfect as Clyde as you could hope for, sucking his lips as he stares frenziedly into the middle distance, justifying his kills and gaslighting us with his charm and unfettered charisma and sex appeal. As well as being a terrifying bastard, he makes a clear case for finding murderous villains sexy. Frances Mayli McCann is witty as Bonnie, and captures something off-kilter about her creativity and charm. Both have some killer songs, not least the thrilling but genuinely unsettling Raise A Little Hell. There are some intensely memorable images too, particularly Gage and McCann crossing arms and pointing guns out into the audience on the front fringes of the stage.
Elsewhere, it’s a decently entertaining story about suburban gossip, and the ones who get left behind. Philip Witcomb’s set and costume design shifts from hair salon to the vast stretches of the American highway with the click of a finger, conjuring a range of atmospheres, and there’s some particularly effective directorial set-ups for an incarcerated Clyde, who belts from behind bars in the darkness like some crazed beast. Georgie Maguire as Clyde’s brother Buck Jodie Steele as Blanche Barrow are an absolutely class affair, too, and there’s a clever trick played with Steele and another of the ensemble cast of women who are the exact same height, wearing the exact same dress and with the exact same haircut. It’s the sort of maddening uniformity Clyde risked his life to run away from.
There is an argument for slowing down the second act to allow more introspection, to get into the heads of Bonnie and Clyde more and allow in more authentic dialogue. It’d build a sense of jeopardy ahead of the car crash and build the story a little. Some critics have called out the glamorising of two murderers, but musicals don’t have an obligation to provide deep character studies, and anyway, both characters’ vulnerabilities are inherent: they were both born into this world with systemic disadvantages which led them down the wrong path.
Regardless, I love how it’s a camp thrill ride: as fast and frenzied as they lived.
Bonnie and Clyde The Musical runs at the Garrick Theatre until 20 May
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