That Bonnie and Clyde, the debut production of Studio 18 at 12th Avenue Arts, works at all well has less to do with the show itself than the very respectable production this new company has given it. The big question at hand is why they chose to do this flawed, short running Broadway musical at all?
The definitive depiction of this tale is the 1967 film starring Warren Beatty (at his sexiest) and then relative newcomer Faye Dunaway, along with Oscar-winning performances by Michael J. Pollard and Estelle Parsons. Director Arthur Penn let loose with what was arguably the bloodiest film in screen history to that time, trailblazing the modern-day movie violence we see in film and television now.
Ivan Menchell’s book for this show is not a trailblazer in any sense. It sets a tame and confused tone that substitutes humor (especially early on) for the coarseness and gore inherent in a true story filled with despicable characters, two of whom were the most notorious outlaws of the 1920’s and beyond. Despite having to write a score and lyrics for an awkward adaptation (Think of what Jerry Herman would have done with Sweeney Todd), Composer Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll and Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel) and Lyricist Don Black (Sunset Boulevard) have written songs that capture the period and passion of the characters as skillfully as they can. several are notable.
Director Matt Lang gets the jazz-baby era right, even when Menchell’s script seems to be yearning to be Chicago instead. Lang sets a zippy pace, that knows when to slow down for the quieter moments of the tale. With a show that requires actors who sing, Lang’s choreography is suitably minimalistic.
It’s the ladies who get and give the show’s standout performances. As Bonnie, Jasmine Jean Sims is an outwardly tough and determined tootsie with a yen to go to Hollywood and become the next Clara Bow–sort of the 20’s Lady Gaga–but her passion for Clyde derails that pursuit. Sims and company kick off the show with a bang on “Picture Show” and she registers strongly in “How About A Dance?”, and “Dyin Ain’t So Bad.” With her high wattage talent and attractive features, I expect Sims to become as hot a musical theatre star as she is a dramatic actress here in Seattle.
The willowy Kate E. Cook is cast to terrific effect as Clyde’s moralistic sister-in-law Blanche, who stands by her man, Clyde’s brother Buck unwisely, to ill effect. Blanche is no fan of Bonnie’s, but Cook and Sims dazzle with their duet “You Love Who You Love”, and in general Cook gives the productions most perfectly calibrated performance.
As Clyde, Zack Summers captures the smart alecky, risk taking character as scripted, with verve. He vocally cuts loose in his solos “Raise A Little Hell” and “Bonnie”, as well as in his several duets with Sims. Brian Pucheu is quite believable as the pathetic Buck Barrow, stuck in his brother’s shadow, and his voice is of high quality, if underserved by the songwriters.
The device of having a young Bonnie and Clyde as spectral figures throughout is unnecessary and unsuccessful despite yeoman efforts by Emily Huston and Diego Roberts Buceta in these roles. As lawman Ted Clinton, Clyde’s unlikely competition for Bonnie, Randall Scott Earnest sings well in a kind of impossible role. All the ensemble male roles, filled with some solid actors like Doug Knoop and Mark Abel are written as poorly and stiffly as they can be, whereas actresss MacCall Gordon as Bonnie’s put upon Mom Emma, and velvet-voiced Victoria Rosser as Clyde’s Mother Cumie, fare better.
Musical direction by Travis Frank is admirable, Elijah Lancey’s sound design is near-perfection, and the scenic projections by Luke Walker are most inspired. Jodi Freeman’s costumes, and Lindsey Hedberg’s hairstyling give the actors the vintage look.
I applaud the Studio 18 team for their admirable work, on a forgotten musical, which by my reckoning will remain that way, save for an exuberant cast album.
Bonnie & Clyde plays through August 13th with shows at 8pm (with an additional Saturday matinee on 8/13 at 2pm) at 12th Ave Arts (1620 12th Ave). For tickets go to brownpapertickets.com. For more information on Studio 18 and the show, go to studio18productions.org.