Bonnie & Clyde: The Musical

Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were barely in their twenties when they started robbing and killing. They were on the run for three years before justice inevitably caught up with them. In 1934, they died dramatically in an ambush in Louisiana, shot by a group of policemen. Bonnie and Clyde’s car was riddled with bullets – over 100 of them.

Teagan Wouters and Blake Appelqvist will play Bonnie & Clyde in Frank Wildhorn’s musical, produced by Joshua Robson Productions at the Hayes Theater Co. Photo © Alex Wales

They died famous, their exploits widely publicized in sensation-hungry newspapers. Jeff Guinn, author of Go Down Together: The True and Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde, says they became “the first two modern icons created by media in America”. Their fame was such that upon hearing of the ambush, people rushed to the scene for souvenirs. The car was towed to a small town with the bodies still inside and later the vehicle was put on display. It is a tourist attraction to this day in a Nevada casino.

The story was given even more oxygen when Arthur Penn made his 1967 film starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty as the doomed lovers.

Names that have passed into common usage to describe renegade behavior and interest have never waned. In 2019, the movie highway robberswith Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson, told the story from the point of view of the lawmen chasing Barrow and Parker and before that there was a musical, with music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Don Black and a book by Ivan Menchell.

The musical had a short run on Broadway in 2011 but, as with much of Wildhorn’s output, was popular elsewhere. A production opened in the West End in April this year and Sydney is seeing a new production at the Hayes Theater Co from June 17. Tegan Wouters and Blake Appelqvist play Bonnie and Clyde.

Talk to limelight from his home in Hawaii, Wildhorn says Barrow and Parker were driven by impulses that are still very evident in the United States today. They wanted to be someone. To notice. To be famous. Parker dreamed of going to Hollywood and being like Clara Bow.

“They were largely products of the times and circumstances they were born into, and America today is in the worst shape I’ve ever seen,” Wildhorn says. “You have a despair, a feeling of deprivation, even for the youngest.”

Guinn told US radio NPR in 2009 – the 75th anniversary of the duo’s death – that Parker and Barrow came from one of the worst slums in all of America. “Not only did they have nothing growing up, but it was clear to them that they would never have anything because this was a time in America where the law-abiding poor remained just that – poor.” They began their lives as criminals “at the exact moment when so many Americans saw the banks as the enemy, the government as the enemy, and wanted any kind of entertainment to distract themselves from their problems”.

Parker and Barrow rebelled against authority. The media were hooked.

Many, including Wildhorn, would say the situation has not changed. He thinks his musical Bonnie and Clyde is more relevant than ever.

Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow between 1932 and 1934 in a photograph found after their deaths on May 23, 1934. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Sydney Producer Bonnie and Clyde, Joshua Robson, calls it “a massive origin story.” Both were idolized. They may have been dangerous criminals, but, says Robson, “that desire and need to be close to them is a common theme we see today, especially in the Trump era. People are sucked into this mindset of this powerful person. It will forever be a theme and that’s where it was born.

“Their dangerous passion for each other was thrilling and the music matches that. There’s a theater-pop rock-folky musical vibe. It’s going to be so exciting in this intimate space [of the Hayes].”

Robson knows the space well, having previously produced Lin-Manuel Miranda In the heights the. He then had a season at the Sydney Opera House. (He also knows the great outdoors. The Victorian College of the Arts graduate is also a performer, recently seen to much acclaim as The Phantom in Opera Australia’s The Phantom of the Opera on Sydney Harbour.)

Bonnie and Clyde came together under trying circumstances. It was to be played in 2020 and then in 2021. COVID-19 put an end to that. “The cast we have has been accumulated from three years of auditions since 2019. Some joined as little as two weeks before rehearsals began,” Robson said. limelight.

The version Joshua Robson Productions is directing is unique. Robson and the show’s director and choreographer, Sam Hooper, always kept in mind that the production had to work for the specific people who were cast. There would be diversity, but it had to be used creatively rather than just ticking boxes.

Hooper was lucky enough to be able to spend time in London with writer Ivan Menchell when Bonnie and Clyde opened on the West End and Menchell agreed to some changes being made. There is no modification of the text but some lines have been reassigned.

For example, Robson and Hooper felt that one character, an investigator, was underrated. “We gave him more dialogue throughout the series, which reinforced his character and his authority,” Robson said. “Ivan Menchell was generous from the start. We gathered a lot of information about the creative process that you don’t normally get, especially on an independent level. Something like that was really helpful for the dramaturgy. Musically [the show is] contemporary and thrilling and thrilling. It’s about marrying that with an ability to modernize history.

Bonnie and Clyde

Teagan Wouters and Blake Appelqvist in rehearsals for Joshua Robson Productions’ Bonnie & Clyde. Photo © Grant Leslie Photography

Wildhorn incorporates a wide range of popular musical styles into the Bonnie and Clyde partition according to the place and time where it takes place. There are flavors of rockabilly, blues and gospel as well as pop rock and conventional musical theatre. The ease comes from Wildhorn’s background as a musician in his native Florida in the 1970s, when concert halls were thriving.

“There were so many places to play along the coast. That was before technology and DJs took over. You could play in a Doobie Brothers or Eagles cover band on Monday and on Tuesday you would play something from Earth Wind and Fire and Stevie Wonder. The music was incredibly eclectic. A pianist above all, he played salsa, Cuban music and jazz and “my teachers were mostly old African-American musicians who kind of took me under their wing,” he says. limelight.

Bonnie and Clyde may not have set Broadway ablaze, but it’s had a life elsewhere, being staged in Japan, Korea, Sweden, Poland, Belgium, Germany and now Australia, among other places .

“Why is it a success? Wildhorn asks rhetorically. He thinks it’s because it tells the story of two young people in dire straits who dream of something better. “The young people who come every night are fans of Bonnie and Clyde. It strikes a chord.”

Bonnie and Clyde plays at the Hayes Theater Co, Potts Point, Sydney from June 17 to July 17.

Sign up for the free Limelight newsletter