“Bonnie & Clyde” Mugged in New York

By Megan McDonald December 2, 2011

Jeremy Jordan and Laura Osnes in Bonnie and Clyde.

New York critics are shooting holes in Bonnie & Clyde, the Frank Wildhorn musical that opened on Broadway Dec. 1 after a well-received production at the Asolo Rep in Sarasota last year.

Bonnie & Clyde isn’t the worst musical to open on Broadway in the past decade,” said The Wall Street Journal. “It isn’t even the worst Frank Wildhorn musical to open on Broadway in the past decade (that would be Dracula). It is, however, quite sufficiently bad enough to qualify for the finals of this year’s What-Were-They-Thinking Prize. Bonnie & Clyde is so ennervatingly bland and insipid that you’ll leave the theater asking yourself why you every liked musicals in the first place.”

Ben Brantley in The New York Times started his review with faint praise, saying the musical was “modest and mildly tuneful.”  But then he went for the kill, saying the show “manages to make that triple-threat lure of sex, youth and violence seem about as glamorous as – and a lot less dangerous than – Black Friday at Wal-Mart.”

Brantley observed that  lead character Clyde Barrow “will do almost anything to stir up his sluggish fellow Americans,” including shooting them in cold blood. “But Clyde, honey, t’aint nothing you can do to raise the pulse of something that’s as near to dead as the show you’re in,” Brantley said.

The cast, led by Laura Osnes and Jeremy Jordan, did get praise from many critics.  “Osnes and Jordan are the biggest assets here: young and easy on the eye, good actors and even better singers,” said the New York Post

The Hollywood Reporter  said the show “assembles four talented leads in a good-looking production, but its trite storytelling leaves them shooting blanks.”

The show-business bible Variety also praised the cast and found Wildhorn’s score “better than usual.” But it said the story’s “dead-end trajectory grows burdensome.” Still, Variety summed up its review by calling the show “arresting if problematic.”

The closest thing to a rave came from Newsday, which said director Jeff Calhoun’s “good-looking production is exceptionally well-cast, including a breakout performance by Jeremy Jordan as a seething yet sympathetic Clyde Barrow. Also, this is Wildhorn’s most developed, most genuinely theatrical score.”

But the Newsday critic said too many numbers in the show “cancel one another out with big yowling climaxes, which makes us feel we’re watching an entire musical made of American Idol showstoppers. And more than several times, I found myself asking, 'So what?' as the familiar saga unfolds with more forward-moving passion than subtle emotional content.”

I found a lot to like in Bonnie & Clyde when I saw it at the Asolo last year. But to me, its central weakness was that I didn’t truly care about the lead characters, despite those knockout performances by Osnes and Jordan. Still, I thought it made for an exciting evening of theater.

As I write this, it’s too early to say what kind of a run Bonnie & Clyde will have on Broadway. Good word-of-mouth reactions can sometimes cancel out bad notices from the critics. I noticed that the three “citizen reviewers” on the blog loved the show.

Whatever happens to the musical, the Asolo shouldn’t be harmed by its involvement with the production.  In fact, its reputation as a welcoming place to try out productions with national aspirations is only growing. And that’s a good thing.

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