Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bonnie and Clyde -- Broadway Bound?

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow
I wanted to check out some local theater while Jay is gone and decided on Bonnie and Clyde at the Asolo Repertory Theater in Sarasota.  I set my GPS and headed off in plenty of time for the 2:00 matinee.  Unfortunately, I put South Tamiami Trail in as the location rather than North Tamiami Trail and ended up literally running to my seat as the curtain came up.

I was pleasantly surprised by the production.  After years of being disappointed by Broadway shows (I'd say my "hit" rate is about 50%, and I definitely have no problem leaving at intermission if I'm not enjoying the show), I didn't have high expectations.  I had read, though, that the Asolo has some history of previewing shows that go on to Broadway, so I was definitely interested in seeing this new musical.

The focus of the play is the relationship between Bonnie and Clyde and what drove them to their life of crime--the back story to the 1967 movie with Warren Beattie and Faye Dunaway that most people have seen. The production drew me in from the beginning.  The initial scene showed a young Bonnie dreaming about growing up to be a movie star like Clara Bow and a young Clyde playing with guns and thinking about how he'd shoot his way out of any situation like a good ol' cops and robbers movie.  The young actors playing the roles had great voices but what made the scene really effective was the use of old movie clips playing on the screen behind them.  As Bonnie sang about how she wanted to be the new "it" girl, pictures of Clara Bow were flashing up on the screen so you could literally see how captivating she must have been to a young girl.  And as Clyde sang about shooting his way out, scenes from what passed for action movies in the '30s played out on the screen above so you could see how a young boy might romanticize such a life.

Photo provided to Sarasota Herald Tribune by Asolo
I enjoyed the music in the show, although I didn't leave the theater humming any of the tunes and the lyrics rhymed a bit too much for my taste.  (I am no songwriter or poet so when I can anticipate the next line, you know it's not a big stretch!)  All of the actors had good voices, and the song "Dyin' Ain't So Bad" by Laura Oshnes was a show stopper.  The sets were fantastic (in the panel discussion afterwards, the director said that Tobin Ost, the set designer, is his "secret weapon").  The multi-media aspect of the play was what really made the play for me, though.  Throughout the play, pictures of the real Bonnie and Clyde and their cohorts and headlines about their escapades were used to remind you that the events that you were seeing on stage had actually occurred. 

I did find myself wondering a couple of times during the show if certain aspects of the play were factual or whether they were taking artistic liberties.  For instance, the governor of Texas was played by a woman.  I had to wonder whether Texas was progressive enough to elect a woman back in the 1930s.  The answer is yes!  The program for the play is a big glossy thing with lots of info about Bonnie and Clyde and the world they grew up in and includes a page on "Texas Law & Order--Miriam "Ma" Ferguson, First Female Governor of Texas."  Ferguson was a fascinating woman.  Her husband had been governor from 1915-1917 and was impeached.  She was first elected in 1924, and ran with the slogan "Me for Ma, and I Ain't Got a Durned Thing Against Pa."  She was apparently frequently quoted as saying that she'd take her husband's advice into account and that "Texas would get two governors for the price of one."  (Very Clinton-esque!) 

I was fortunate to be at a performance that had a panel discussion afterwards, and it was quite interesting to hear about the process of trying to prepare a play for a Broadway run. Michael Donald Edwards, the Producing Artistic Director of the Asolo, was joined by Jeff Calhoun (director), Don Black (lyricist) and Ivan Menchell (book writer). They talked about the background of the show and then went to the audience for some feedback.  The show first opened in 2009 in La Jolla, California.  The group explained that the feedback they got from the audiences in the first run was that they wanted more about what made Bonnie and Clyde turn to this life of crime.  Seven songs were added to the show (which led them to ask the audience if the show was too long and a discussion of what to cut if it was), as well as the roles of the young Bonnie and young Clyde. One scene that was added related to Clyde's rape in jail at the hands of another prisoner (whom he killed).  The panel talked about how difficult it was to address this subject in a way that would be palatable for audiences but that they felt it was important to include because it was a turning point for Clyde.   In a 21st century twist, the panel explained that most of the changes to the play were vetted by them either over e-mail or by Skype conference calls.

The hope is obviously that Bonnie and Clyde will make it to Broadway.   I'll be curious to watch what happens.  Having seen lots of theater over the past 25 years, I think it would do fine.  After all, I didn't even think about leaving at intermission! 

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