Bonnie & Clyde
Through Sunday, Mar. 31
North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre, Raleigh
I had a big pulp-fiction phase as a teen, devouring Maxwell Grant’s thrilling, formulaic novels about 1930s vigilante The Shadow. So I mean it as a simple description, not a put-down, that Bonnie & Clyde is a dime-store novel of a musical. As Frank Wildhorn’s score meanders through ragtime and Americana, Ivan Menchell’s book punches up and simplifies the life-of-crime story of Bonnie Parker (Reanna Kicinski) and Clyde Barrow (Ty Myatt), paring down the criminal gang to Clyde’s brother, Buck (Daryl Ray Carliles). It also erases the seamier facts behind the stylish, sexy, and self-documenting young couple who were celebrated as folk heroes for robbing banks during the Great Depression, then reviled for the indiscriminate murders they committed.
With a predominantly young cast, including student actors, achieving varying levels of characterization and believability, the ensemble scenes don’t always coalesce under Jeri Lynn Schulke’s direction. Overall, the women fare best, from Kicinski’s show-stopping torch song “How ‘Bout a Dance” to Lauren Tompkins’s luminous “That’s What You Call a Dream” as Buck’s wife, Blanche. Tompkins also helms a comic gospel rave-up in which she and three beauty-shop sibyls inform a slack-jawed Buck, “You’re Going Back to Jail.” Myatt began pretty cold on opening night, but his and Kicinski’s conviction ultimately sold the poverty critique “What Was Good Enough for You.” Double-cast, Ryan Madanick amused as a gangster groupie before turning into a Texas Ranger.
There’s poignancy in the small-town dreams of Clyde, who plans on “wearing Sunday clothes on a Tuesday” and driving a race car with a top speed of sixty-five. A starstruck Bonnie marvels that, in Hollywood, “Big stars make thirty dollars a week!” But the Depression offered scant shelter, food, or money, let alone riches or fame, and we sense the tragedy coming when the only way two impatient twenty-somethings can find agency is with their guns.