Garrick Theatre, London – until 20 May 2023
London’s most-wanted musical Bonnie & Clyde returns to the West End to raise a little hell, and it’s bigger and better than ever.
Based on the most famous outlaw couple in American history, Bonnie & Clyde the musical premiered in 2009 in San Diego, before transferring to Broadway for a brief run in 2011. The West End had to wait though, but patience was rewarded with a concert version at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in January last year, followed by a full musical at the Arts Theatre over summer, resulting in the production winning the WhatsOnStage Award for Best New Musical as well as a league of fans. Now the show is back, this time at the Garrick Theatre, and it’s easy to see why this musical is so popular.
Ivan Menchell’s book follows the duo throughout their lives at the height of the Great Depression in America. The show opens at the end – or at least the end for Bonnie and Clyde – with the sound of bullets sounding out before the couple are seen slumped dead in their car. We then go back in time, seeing them in their younger years in West Texas, Bonnie (played by Frances Mayli McCann) yearning to be famous like her idol Clara Bow and Clyde (Jordan Luke Gage) looking up to the likes of Billy the Kid and Al Capone. We then witness the pair meeting for the first time, heading out on the run together before finally they meet their end. Director Nick Winston ensures that the action runs smoothy throughout, a production packed full of drama mixed in with light-hearted moments.
The soundtrack, featuring Frank Wildhorn’s music and Don Black’s lyrics, features a mix of country, bluegrass and rock songs, with even a little gospel thrown in for good measure. There really is no weak leak amongst the many tunes, but highlights include ‘Raise a Little Hell’ and ‘How ‘Bout a Dance?’
As well as the music, what really stands out in this production is the high calibre of casting, with every actor clearly at the top of their game and having the time of their lives up on stage. McCann is a captivating Bonnie, caught up in her love for bad boy Clyde and her desire for stardom (there’s a particularly amusing moment where her character pauses to sign autographs in the middle of a bank robbery). Her voice is beautiful, at its best during ‘Dyin Ain’t So Bad’ as she shows a more vulnerable side to Bonnie when she realises that one day soon the couple’s time will be up.
Jordan Luke Gage switches effortlessly between a charming, charismatic young man who seems to love himself as much as he does Bonnie, and a sinister criminal with a grudge against the world. He threatens to steal the show with his incredible vocals, and in particular his rendition of ‘Raise a Little Hell’ raises the roof off of the Garrick. The pair have great chemistry and the show is all the better for their return.
Also reprising his role is George Maguire who plays Clyde’s conflicted brother Buck, torn between his love for his wife and desire to join his brother out on the road. Maguire never fails to impress, even if his character feels a little underused at times. Joining the production this year is Jodie Steele who plays his wife, Blanche. A typical Southern belle, Blanche is a Christian determined her husband will go straight upon his release from prison. Maguire and Steele are responsible for a lot of the humour within the show, with Steele’s snide comments, Maguire’s sheepish looks and the pair’s brilliant comic timing. Steele is a wonderful addition to the company with a beautiful voice. Her duet with Frances Mayli McCann, ‘You Love Who You Love’ is simply stunning.
Cleve September returns as Ted, Bonnie’s childhood friend who has feelings for her. The problem? He’s a man of the law. Although the character too feels a little underwritten, it’s great to see September portray Ted’s conflicted emotions at wanting to find the criminals, but at the same time not wanting Bonnie to come to any harm. Dom Hartley-Harris, a newcomer to the production as the Preacher, ensures he leaves his mark on the show with brief but powerful numbers, including ‘Made in America’.
There have been some changes since the Arts Theatre run and the show seems better for it. There’s no doubt that Bonnie & Clyde is suited to a bigger theatre, and the creative team do a great job of filling the larger stage. Philip Witcomb’s set design takes the audience back in time to the Depression era, aided by Zoe Spurr’s lighting and Nina Dunn’s video projections help to set the scene throughout.
It’s been almost ninety years since the death of the real Bonnie and Clyde, and interest in the couple shows no sign of letting up anytime soon. Although the show goes some way in explaining how Clyde got caught up in a life of crime, his family struggling with poverty, his later abuse in prison; Bonnie’s backstory is a little light in comparison. At times you have to remind yourself that this couple were real criminals, committing several robberies and killing thirteen people. Thankfully Dunn’s projections go some way in helping with this, with images of the real duo – in life and death – flashing up throughout.
Despite the ending feeling a little rushed, Bonnie & Clyde is an impressive and engaging production about these legendary outlaws. With memorable songs and some truly impressive performances from the cast, this is a show not to be missed.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Bonnie & Clyde plays at the Garrick Theatre until 20 May.
Photo Credit: The Other Richard
Adblock test (Why?)