At the height of the Great Depression, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow went from two small-town nobodies in West Texas to America's most renowned folk heroes and Texas law enforcement's worst nightmares. There is an enduring allure to the legendary tale of these notorious bank-robbing lovers. With love, lust, tragedy, crime and murder, it’s a story that is ripe for the musical theatre treatment – and Australia finally sees its own mainstage debut of the Tony-nominated Bonnie & Clyde the musical from the legendary Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll & Hyde, Civil War, Dracula) at Sydney’s Hayes Theatre.
Delivered with a thick Texas accent, this show is smattered with gunfire and splashes of blood. The violence is contrasted by the internal worlds of these supposed hardened criminals, as they grapple with what it means to take a life, and the failings of a society which stole their innocence and led them both down the dark path that would ultimately end in their demise.
As they hurtle ever faster towards their inevitable demise, we see how Bonnie and Clyde’s frivolous facade (they would literally sign autographs during bank robberies) and frisky connection also belies a complicated, tumultuous relationship. There is a moment of shocked silence early on when Clyde (Blake Appelqvist) raises a hand to Bonnie (Teagan Wouters). It’s enough to make you buy into the advice that a lady should always choose a nice, respectable (if slightly dull) hopeful suitor – like detective Ted Hinton, played with puppy-eyed charm by Lewis Francis – over a reckless escaped convict who really gets her motor running. While striking your partner is never an excusable act, we soon learn that Bonnie is a tough cookie that can hold her own, and that both of these doomed lovers are caught between their bad decisions, their hunger for fame and notoriety, and the difficulties of living through a depression.
Simon Greer’s (Caroline, or Change and In the Heights for the Hayes) simplistic set design turns the Hayes’ modest stage into a surprisingly adaptive setting for the 16-strong cast to fill with scenes played out in diners, hotel rooms, a hair salon, jail cells and in car chases. With a simple arrangement of props and the flash of headlights, Bonnie and Clyde’s getaway ride makes a miraculous appearance. James Wallis’ (American Psycho for the Hayes) lighting design adds depth and dimension to the crate-covered stage, with the kiss of death signified as characters are briefly bathed in a flourish of red light. Claudia Kryszkiewicz’s (Ulster American for the Seymour Centre) costume design leans into mobster tropes without ever feeling too ‘costumey’, and Bonnie and Clyde’s outfits grow more elevated as their robberies get more ambitious.
The blues and rockabilly-infused score has a touch of O Brother, Where Art Thou? to it, and there’s a believable chemistry between leads Teagan Wouters (Julia Gia in The Wedding Singer) and Blake Appelqvist (Paul Owen in American Psycho The Musical) with Appelqvist stealing the show with some particularly powerful vocals. Another strong musical presence is up and coming performer Milo Hartill as Blanche Barrow, the wife of Clyde’s brother Buck (Kieran McGrath) – a couple whose love feels more rounded and grounded in reality than the leading pair’s more torrid love affair.
This show is clearly created from a place of deep research and deeper fandom, and with some recent script changes, the book by Ivan Menchell doesn’t make light of the body count of this beguiling and complicated pair.
There’s a sense of excitement and foreboding imbued into this whole affair, though there are moments where the action begins to flatline and some songs feel like they wouldn’t be missed if they were tossed out of the window of a speeding car to lighten the load. But in all, Bonnie & Clyde is a thrilling night at the theatre for history buffs, Americana lovers and musical fans.
Bonnie & Clyde plays at the Hayes Theatre Co in Potts Point unil July 17, 2022.