The story of fugitives Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow is one that almost everyone is at least somewhat familiar. The “Barrow Gang” as law enforcement and the Press referred to them; were active from March 1932 until their final ambush on May 23, 1934 on a rural road in Bienville Perish Louisiana by a posse of six officers from Texas and Louisiana. Their short lived career gained them hero like status during the height of the Great Depression by many Americans who saw them as striking back against an uncaring system far corrupted by banks, businessmen and politicians. They operated during the FBI named “public enemy” phase of 1931-1934, their contemporaries were famous names such as John Dillinger, “Baby Face” Nelson, “Pretty Boy” Floyd and Ma Barker, four of which were killed in their own separate ambushes all later that same year in 1934. The Barrow gang would follow soon after in January 1935 which brought the “public enemy” phase to an impressive end as all five of the FBI’s most notorious gangs met their end. Most historians agree this aggressive activity from Law Enforcement was precipitated by Bonnie & Clyde and the at least 9 police officers that they killed in a two year period.
Their story received further attention in later years by photos that were released from items discovered in the gang’s hideout in Joplin, Missouri then by the 1967 Warner Brothers movie directed by Arthur Penn starring Warren Beaty and Faye Dunaway, and of course by this musical making it debut in 2009 at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego and now making it way to Lehi presented by the Utah Repertory Theater Company. I attended the performance of Bonnie &Clyde on Saturday Evening January 18th at The Lehi Arts Center.
The Lehi Arts Center has a rather small studio theater that probably normally sits about 130; however this production uses a small 7 piece live orchestra so this limits the seating of each performance to about 70 General Admission seats. It is best to get there a little early 20-30 minutes to ensure you have your pick of the seats. Also this particular performance was sold out so you will want to purchase your tickets in advance (which is usually always my advice to any performance) to ensure that you will be able to get seats. Before the production got started there seemed to be some logistical issues with seating some audience members which caused the production to start 15 minutes late. With such a small theater I would not expect that a show would start late due to seating issues.
The show starts by showing us Bonnie & Clyde in their final resting place, in which it gives a glimpse into this production’s attention to detail in costumes and effects. The show then is a retelling of the life of Bonnie & Clyde with a focus on the few years before their death.
The opening number “Picture Show” introduces us to both young Bonnie played by Abigail Parkinson and young Clyde played by Kimball Bradford. I was very impressed throughout the night by both Parkinson’s and Bradford’s stage presence, vocal abilities and most importantly their ability to mimic their adult counterparts. Whenever there are young adult actors playing the early versions of the adult selves I cannot help but when I first see the adult actor take the stage if I can still see a little bit of their younger selves. I found the hand-off of young Bonnie and Clyde to adult Bonnie and Clyde to be excellent.
The third number “You’re Going Back to Jail” was also very well done. In this number we are introduced to Clyde’s brother Buck Barrow played by Johnny Wilson and his wife Blanche Barrow played on this performance by Michelle Moore. I enjoyed the chemistry between Wilson and Moore on this number and throughout the performance. They seemed very comfortable with each other and made a very believable couple. They both had a great commitment to their character and were excellent vocally.
Vocally I was also impressed with the performances of Ted Hinton played by Dallin Major, the Preacher played by Christopher Bradford and the Choir Leader played by Yoah Guerrero. Major has a fantastic voice with an impressive range. He really shinned on “You Can Do Better Than Him” and then a trio between Clyde, Buck and himself in Act II “Raise a Little Hell (reprise)”. Bradford and Guerrero did a great job on “God’s Arms Are Always Open” and the gospel opening number of Act II “Made in America”.
I always love a live orchestra that sounds good and this production delivered on that point. The instrumentation is non-traditional this orchestra was basically a jazz combo with woodwind instruments and a violin presumably to give it more of a 1930’s sound. Most of the night it almost did not sound like there was a live orchestra used, which for a small orchestra is the hallmark of having a good tone, and balance and executing the music well. Big orchestras are stirring and become part of the wall of sound in a production but with small orchestras you really should be able to forget they are there unless something goes wrong. There were only two times the orchestra got my attention, once for a small intonation issue in between the lower instruments and another time were it seemed like most of the musicians were unclear as to the tempo, however both of these moments were quickly resolved. Live orchestras are hard work to assemble and rehearse but they add so much more to the production and I am from the school that all the music in a musical should be produced by the people involved in the production as much as possible. Music Director and Orchestra Conductor Anjanette Mickelsen did a fine job and her musicians should feel proud of their work.
The other technical elements that stood out to me was the nice pairing of light and sound design which was evident right from the start of the show with an opening thunderstorm. The flashing of the lights were timed to the sound of the thunder. Also a nice touch on the sound side was a very nice transition from listening to music on the radio to having the orchestra pick up and continue the song. These might not seem like much but it showed great attention to detail by Lighting Designer Michael Grey and Sound Designer James Hansen. Also great attention to detail was paid by Costume Designer Nancy Susan Cannon; Bonnie had different shoes in almost every scene. The iconic dress that Bonnie was wearing in the photos found in the actual Bonnie & Clyde hideout in Joplin was re-created very accurately. Almost every character had on period shoes and all of the clothing was appropriate. Prop Master David Henry and Set Designer Steve Twede also did a great job with recreating a Ford Model T with working light, a Texas 1932 license plate, weapons that were correct for the period, and very creative use of blood packs for added realism. Stage Manager Annie Brantley should be very proud of the transitions between scenes as they were quick and seamless, sometimes a little too quick as some actors barely had enough time to get their costume changes done and sometimes had to leave auxiliary clothing items such as socks behind. It was clear to me that everyone on the technical team did their research.
Bonnie Parker played by Madeline Weinberger was another vocal stand-out for the evening, it is clear that she spent a good deal of time preparing for this production not only musically but also in getting into her character. It is when both of the elements combine that you have truly great moments and she achieved this in her Act II Solo number “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad”, Weinberger truly had everyone hanging on every note. She also understands very well the humor elements in the show and delivered all of these very well. I had a hard time believing that she had a connection with Clyde for most of Act I, during the time that they were falling in love. This did change in Act II and Weinberger seemed a lot more comfortable with Clyde. By the end of the show I found myself truly believing in their relationship and hoping that maybe this time they would give the law a slip and come out ok.
Clyde Barrow played by Johnny Hebda was an acting stand-out, vocally he did fine, however it seemed like the part was just a bit out of his range. However, he did not hold anything back vocally and while I got the impression at times he was trying to sing to the back row, I do respect someone who goes for it as most people would back away. I felt from the moment Hebda took the stage he was completely in his role. This part is not just about being the gangster that robs people at gunpoint; Clyde had a troubled youth and even more troubled early adult hood with his experiences inside the Corrections System. I felt Hebda conveyed Clyde’s misgivings for the Texas Department of Corrections and anyone in the Law Enforcement system and his desire to exact revenge on them. However there was one moment in the play where Clyde kills for the first time and it happens to be a police officer. This experience is depicted in the show as troubling Clyde greatly. Hebda did a great job portraying Clyde as a man who is exacting cold-blooded revenge on the world but at the same time is still capable of real feelings such as killing for the first time and his love for Bonnie. I very much enjoyed the dynamic between Hebda and Weinberger they both made a very believe able Bonnie & Clyde and couple.
Director Adam Cannon has assembled a great team of actors, musicians and production staff. I watched him briefly interacting with patrons as they left the theater, as he was holding the door for them. I could see he has truly enjoyed this production and was still very humble as many praised the show as they left. He should feel very proud of this production and I hope he enjoys many more sold out nights.
There is a content warning with the production that is posted on the doors as you enter the theater, this show does have some strong language and there is subject matter that some may find not suitable for smaller children. I wish Utah Repertory posted this same warning on their site, instead of just merely hanging it on the door, since we live in a day where so many buy tickets on-line. Utah Repertory Theater has delivered another great production and everyone should see this show if they have the chance.
Utah Repertory Theater Company’s production of “Bonnie & Clyde” performs January 17th – February 1st Thursday’s, Friday’s, Saturday’s and Monday’s at 7:30 pm with Matinee performances on Saturday January 25 and February 1st at 2pm at The Lehi Arts Center, 685 North Center Street, Lehi, 84043. Tickets are $18 for Adult General Admission and $15 for students and seniors. Thursday January 23rd the performance is SOLD OUT. Tickets are available at http://www.utahrep.org Running time: Approx. 2 hours 30 minutes, 15 minute intermission.