About a minute into the show that bears their names, Bonnie [Parker] & Clyde [Barrow] — those bank-robbing young lovers of the Depression of whom myths, movies and now musicals are made — reached the end of the line Dec. 1 at the Schoenfeld, ambushed by John Law on a lonely country road. That's the way their world ends, not with a bang but with 130 rounds of rat-a-tat-tat. This way they can ride off into the happy ending that eluded them in 24 years of hard living.
It's the devil to pay, sure, but at least Laura Osnes and Jeremy Jordan are spared that bullet-riddled writhing-around that director Arthur Penn had Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty go through in torturous slo-mo for their 1967 cult film classic (also called "Bonnie and Clyde"). By making crime pay at the beginning, they get a free ride into the sunset at the end.
What, indeed, hath Penn wrought! It's the way he has made the world want to remember those lethal lovebirds. Consequently, a musical version is the short, easy punt from Penn's absurdly romanticized (if ground-breakingly unique) take, and no fewer than five are reportedly in the works in assorted states of completion.
[flipbook] The first to cross the finish line to Broadway is by the most prolific Broadway composer of this generation, Frank Wildhorn. In his seventh fling at the Main Stem in 16 years, he seems to have hit upon the magic combination: the right theatre and an ampersand. Bonnie & Clyde has landed at the same theatre where his first and most successful show played: Jekyll & Hyde. The theatre was called the Plymouth back then, and Wildhorn has responded with his best score since Jekyll & Hyde. Actually, B&C is more varied than J&H.
"That's my lucky theatre," Wildhorn conceded at the Edison Ballroom after-party, "and it certainly worked there before. I hope we'll be there for a while. I believe so much in this show, and audiences have been so beautiful. I can't ask more from them."
His inspiration? "It's the research that Ivan Menchell did and the book that he wrote that inspired me. I was serving the book, that's what I was trying to do."
Tactfully fielded, but he had to admit he didn't write it with lightning speed: "This started as a song cycle I wrote for my ex-wife, Linda Eder, in 1989-1999 when I ran a division of Atlantic Records. Don Black supplied some lyrics so Linda could sing them, and then many years later Jeff Calhoun, the director-choreographer, heard those songs, and the show started to take shape."
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Prior to this spree of illegal bank withdrawals, Calhoun had Jordan leading a strike of newsboys against penny-pinching publisher Joseph Pulitzer in Newsies, which got such an exciting lift-off at the Paper Mill Playhouse it'll land on Broadway before season's end — but without Jordan, who'll stick with his life of crime. One suspects he's still wearing his Newsies cap as a sentimental good-luck charm. They look the same, but he said not: "This is a 1930s cap whereas Newsies was 1899. There's a very distinct style difference. It's also dirty."
His favorite part of the evening occurred backstage. "I think the best part of tonight was all of the cast giving each other gifts and presents. I got some ties. Laura got me this beautiful watch. Lots of crazy cookies and candies and just heartfelt cards. I gave some fun gifts. I gave a model of a Model-T roadster to Clay."
"Clay" is Claybourne Elder, who plays Clyde's brother, Buck Barrow. (Looking very much like an "In Cold Blood" Scott Wilson gives him an extra criminal edge.) "There's a wide range to play in Buck," Elder admitted. "I love that he's a very conflicted man. He has a lot of heart and some surprising comedy. I love getting those laughs because I love knowing when the audience is with us."
Osnes, decked out in '30s frills, also recalls a cinematic presence — and not the Clara Bow that she is always singing about and aspires to be. Toughening as she goes deeper into criminal activities, she brings to mind Joan Crawford in her scrappy shop-girl period — an image appropriate for Bonnie's waitressing.
|photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
Some of Wildhorn's best numbers fall into her lap — a blues nightclub ditty called "How 'Bout a Dance?" and a duet with Clyde easing her into a lawless mind-set, "What Was Good Enough for You." The latter, a haunting stay-with-you number, is, in her view, "the precise moment where, I think, Bonnie changes — where Young Bonnie becomes Mature Bonnie, the Bonnie Parker that everyone knows." Adieu, innocence. Innocence is the hallmark of Buck's Bible-thumping, moralizing wife, Blanche, and Melissa Van Der Schyff has a field day being the only sane and accessible person on the stage. "It's fun to play that difference," she said, "and I love the moments with the Barrow gang when the four of us are together. I really cherish that camaraderie on stage as an actor."
Religion reluctantly rubs shoulders with the Barrow gang along the way, and Michael Lanning plays a preacher who rasps out "God's Arms Are Always Open" like Tom Waits. It turns out that he was ill, struggling through a flared-up vocal virus on opening night. "I'm calling out of the show tomorrow, but my daughter and her fiancé are here from California, and I had to do it. They wouldn't need a hook — they'd need a crane to get me off that stage."
Lanning last played Broadway as a Yankee captain in Wildhorn's The Civil War. "This is my 50th year in show business," beamed the seasoned pro. "I started when I was nine with Ruta Lee and Billy Barty in Peter Pan."
Daniel Cooney has the distinction of being the ensemble member most robbed by Bonnie and Clyde during the course of the evening, and that still puts him behind Joe Hart, who, pursuing the title characters, lost his song ("The Long Arm of the Law") along the way en route to previews. "I asked my son what he thought of the show," he remarked, "and he said, 'Well, you go after Bonnie and Clyde, and you fail. And then you go after Bonnie and Clyde again, and you fail. And then you go after Bonnie and Clyde again, and they kill ya.'"
|photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
Feeling a tad flu-ish but camouflaging that with his smiley face, director-choreographer Calhoun ground his way through the press gauntlet with commendable grit and grin. One tonic was a backstage visit from Tommy Tune, who helped him into the wonderful world of Broadway hyphenates. "It was a nice reunion for us," he said. "He said I had become 'masterful.' Made my day."
Standing off from it, Calhoun admitted he liked the way the show looked. "Wasn't it beautiful? I think beauty is important for shows. We don't always get that." His proudest achievement, he admitted, was "assembling a great cast."
Next, he gets to do it again — no rest for the weary, no Disney World, "I start casting Newsies next week. Rehearsals aren't until February. We open March 29." Since that too will fall under this year's Tony wire, he could conceivably find himself competing with himself for the same awards. "It's a good problem," he sighed.
Kenny Ortega, nicely tanned and clearly from the other coast, moved with authority among the evening's movers-and-shakers, a friend of the Calhoun court. "I'm so proud of Jeff, my buddy," he announced with the slightest of nudges. "He has such a style and such an approach to storytelling, and I was so drawn in. I wasn't sure what I was going to see tonight, and I was immediately struck by the music and the performances — and then I suddenly realized that the show had me by the throat. Not since Grey Gardens have I been so surprised by a piece of theatre."
And that's not the only Calhoun show Ortega was cheering. He caught Newsies in its Paper Mill Playhouse reincarnation — as well he should (he made his directing debut, in addition to choreographing, the 1992 Disney movie). "I was so thrilled to hear it was going to have a run on Broadway. It's so special." The two shows that are propelling Calhoun into the spotlight have started Ortega thinking about jumping back into Broadway waters. He toweled off and went West when Marilyn: An American Fable, which he directed and choreographed in 1983, tanked after 17 performances. "We've a couple of theatricals in development, and I'm hoping that the next couple of years will bring me back to New York."
First-nighters included Freddie Jackson, Margaret Colin, John McDaniel (the show's arranger, in a perpetual nob-and-bob during the musical numbers), Dale Badway, producer-actor Michael A. Alden, Sebastian Arcelus (whose Blue Flower closed at Second Stage last weekend) and wife Stephanie J. Block, Pulitzer Prize playwright Marsha Norman, Matthew Settle, Alex Ko, Bethany Joy Galetti from TV's "One Tree Hill," Tony winner-in-a-bowler Ben Vereen, Constantine Maroulis (showing support for Jordan, his Rock of Ages understudy), Nikki Blonsky of the "Hairspray" film, Pamela Jordan, Christopher Sieber, director Alex Timbers and adapter Thomas Meehan (readying the musical Rocky for its German premiere in 2012), Chely Wright, Aaron Carter now of The Fantasticks, Neil Simon and wife Elaine Joyce, Sasha Cohen, Laila Robins and Robert Cuccioli (Wildhorn's Jekyll & Hyde), Countess LuAnn de Lesseps, Chris Noth, Adam LeFevre, columnist Cindy Adams, director Michael Wilson, Norm Lewis (Broadway's next Porgy), John Stamos, Tony-winning director Melvin Bernhardt and new husband Jeff Woodham, Greta Monahan and Penny Fuller.
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