When seeing a musical, one of the questions I always try to ask myself is “Is this story told better by being a musical?” In the case of Bonnie and Clyde at San Jose Stage, I think I was wooed by the content, visuals and actually enjoyed the music enough on its own, to completely forget to ask myself this question. It’s like asking if that “bad boy” is really a good match for you…it just doesn’t occur to you to even ask the question until much later/entirely too late. What’s done is done and you have fun while it lasted. While I think my inner critic might have been seduced a tad by some of the parts, when I look at the whole, there are a few, significant…holes.
While I don’t claim to be sophisticated at all when it comes to music (or when it comes to anything really for that matter) or even a fan of the traditional musical, the music is a bit unexpected in this show and I rather enjoyed that aspect. With an eclectic mix of 20’s and 30’s speakeasy jazz, some rockabilly, gospel and sweet ballads, the soulful old-timey feel had me tapping my toes and humming for days afterward, but I fully acknowledge I might be in the minority there. Was the music moving? A couple of numbers, sure, but on the whole if I had a gun to my head…I’d be forced to admit it’s probably neither terribly complex, nor original, nor essential to tell this story. Still, banjos, piano, fiddles…it must be buried somewhere deep in my DNA that these instruments and the occasional twang, automatically put a smile on my face.
Adding to the visual eye candy of this show were the costumes. Costuming was quite wonderful (as in send all of those dresses and pretty silk unmentionables to my closet, stat.) The use of projections and actual film section was non-disruptive for the most part (a trend that’s making the rounds in theaters that I’m not usually a fan of, but it was mostly inoffensive to me here). The set and lighting sufficiently set an appropriate rustic mood. A seriously impressive collection of guns, solid fight choreography and just the right about of blood and flash/bang helped tell the violent part of the story without being fake or excessive.
The most disappointing part of the whole night though had to be the sound and I felt like I was taking a bullet in some places it was so painful. While the band was tight, balance issues, vocal reverb and general volume issues hung a huge cloud over what I think could have been significantly more enjoyable had that been handled better. The good news is, it’s fixable so I’ve no doubt the potential of this show will shine through after some more technical tweaking. Speaking of potential…
Our Clyde is angry, crazy, lusty, bitter, misguided and has a twisted little sweet side that comes out mostly via ukulele. His vocals are fantastic and I think the audience unanimously enjoyed his performance. It also cannot be ignored that his physical presence certainly seemed to have a large segment of the female audience (plus a portion of the male audience) a tad hot and bothered. No one blamed Bonnie for falling…not in the least.
Bonnie looked the part too and felt the part as well with solid emotional layers, but the sound issues plagued her worst of all and it was a struggle in places we’ve seen her reign victorious vocally before. Their chemistry was steamy and played totally authentic, which was an essential component to engaging an audience and moving the story forward. A surprising amount of humor throughout played well between sweet moments and the dramatic shoot-em-up bits we’d expect from this epic historic tale.
The two young actors who played young Bonnie and Clyde are used in video only and they were both bloody fantastic. I would have loved to see them live onstage instead of on video to be perfectly honest, but that can be a challenge with a longer show running 5 nights a week. The other supporting roles and ensemble were all respectable and brought some new talent to the stage. I’m the first to admit I’d love to see a mix of even more new talent on that stage instead of the artistic ensemble all the time. The core actors are all very good, but IF you see all the shows, it starts to feel like they are all connected instead of standing on their own. I simply find it hard to divorce standout performances from just a few weeks prior and see them fresh in new roles so soon. Lots of theaters are “growing their core talent,” it’s not an uncommon practice, but for me, my pleasure is greatly increased when I see “new” talent on stage or talent I don’t even recognize, because they transform so completely in each different role.
So in the end, 3 ½ jewels out of 5 in the review tiara for a sexy show with a lot more potential if the sound issues get worked out. Bonnie & Clyde plays through July, 27th at the San Jose Stage in Downtown San Jose.