Over the past five years, Slow Burn Theater Company has gone from struggling upstart to a musical theater force to be reckoned with. Now with their current production of Bonnie & Clyde, they have outdone themselves, producing a sexy, steamy, sultry show that would be at home on any Broadway stage.
The true tale of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow is one of America’s more fascinating cases of infamous celebrity. In the early 1930s, the young lovers ran roughshod through the southern and Mid-western part of a country in the grip of the Great Depression. At first painted as folk heroes for robbing the big, bad banks that foreclosed on dirt-poor citizens’ homes, the tide turned as the pair shot and killed civilians and lawmen alike until they met their inevitable, bloody end. In 1967, their crime spree was romanticized by the titular film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, introducing a new generation to the criminal couple and cementing their love affair in pop culture history.
The musical Bonnie & Clyde, with a book by Ivan Menchell, lyrics by Don Black and music by Frank Wildhorn had a Broadway of only 36 performances. While Menchell’s book is often formulaic, Wildhorn’s music is evocative of the era and, paired with Black’s often snappy lyrics, make for some terrific songs.
The musical wisely opens with a hail of gunfire, Bonnie and Clyde’s bullet ridden car and the two lovers slumped inside, getting that inevitability out of the way. That somber scene is juxtaposed with a young Bonnie mooning over a movie magazine, singing her dream of being an “It Girl” like star Clara Bow, and a young Clyde with a gun, waxing poetic about Billy the Kid. The story follows their short lives — both were in their early 20s when they died — through their love-at-first sight meeting, their criminal career and their date with death.
Their story is on paper, but it is director Patrick Fitzwater’s vision and his cast’s and design team’s considerable talents that bring their tale to life. Fitzwater is especially adept at making more on stage than there is on the page, never more so than with this script.
But the flaws in the script are overshadowed because the chemistry between Jessica Brooke Sanford’s Bonnie and Bruno Faria’s Clyde is palpable from the very beginning. Each encounter reeks of raw sexuality. Sanford and Faria perfectly portray the longing and urgency of illicit love, and the poignancy of true anti-heroes — you can’t help but root for them even though technically they are the bad guys and you know how their story ends.
Sanford, who appeared last year in Slow Burn’s Carrie: The Musical, has a fine voice and captures Bonnie’s evolution from an idealistic girl in love to a woman resigned to her fate.
Faria is a real find. Not yet graduated from college, he already possesses the dynamic vocal power and stage presence of a veteran leading man.
The supporting cast is equally excellent. Christian Vandepas plays Clyde’s gun-wielding brother Buck Barrow with panache, while Kaela Antolino plays his bible-thumping wife Blanche with Betty Boop charm feisty resolve. David Cohn is a standout as a preacher rallying the talented ensemble in several scenes. Juliette Valle and Nicholas V. Ismailoff deliver wonderful performances as the Young Bonnie and Young Clyde.
The Bonnie & Clyde design team is spot on. Fitzwater works his choreography magic in several numbers, notably the defiant “Made in America” the comic “You’re Goin’ Back to Jail” and the rousing “When I Drive”. Emmanuel Schvartzman’s musical direction is perfect. Sean McClelland’s ramshackle set is a fitting rendition of time and place. Lance Blank’s lighting enhances the steaminess of the story. Danny Butler’s sound is excellent. And Rick Pena’s costumes show the careful research that went into his design.
Slow Burn’s Bonnie & Clyde is one of those shows that people will be talking about for a long time to come. Don’t be left out of the conversation. Don’t miss it.
Bonnie & Clyde runs through February 8 at West Boca Performing Arts Theater, 12811 W. Glades Rd., Boca Raton and then also February 12-15 at the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center, 3385 NE 188 St., Aventura.
For more information and to buy tickets for the Boca Raton shows, visit SlowBurnTheater.org. To buy tickets for the Aventura shows, visit Ticketmaster.com.