Review: BONNIE & CLYDE at Kokandy Productions

Review: BONNIE & CLYDE at Kokandy Productions

Pictured: Desiree Gonzalez and Max DeTonge. Photo by Evan Hanover.

By Elizabeth Ellis

Long before the era of the infamous low-speed chase and the glut of websites that boast actors’ mug shots, the intersection of criminal and celebrity fascinated the American public. In the 1930’s, the chair of the Chicago Crime Commission coined the term “public enemy” to describe gangsters involved in organized crime, and later FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover adopted the phrase to describe wanted criminals and notorious fugitives that the FBI was pursuing.

Some of the best-known public enemies of this time were John Dillinger, Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd, and lovers and partners in crime, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. While most people are well aware of the 1967 iconic Arthur Penn film, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, that immortalized the celebrated duo, lesser known is the musical version that played on Broadway in 2011. BONNIE & CLYDE, with music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Don Black, and a book by Ivan Menchell, receives an outstanding interpretation in its Chicago premiere by Kokandy Productions at Theatre Wit. With superb singing, music, and acting, and fast-paced direction, this Bonnie and Clyde retelling should not be missed.

Leading the well-chosen cast of 19 are Max DeTogne and Desiree Gonzalez as the lovers, with Jeff Pierpont and Tia L. Pinson portraying their adolescent versions. Pierpont and Pinson give hints as to the fires burning inside both Bonnie and Clyde well before they came together: Bonnie desiring fame and fortune and hoping to make a splash in Hollywood to replace Clara Bow as a movie star, and Clyde longing to take up arms and become an outlaw. Gonzalez’s initial enthusiasm and wide-eyed innocence provide a perfect foil to the hardened gun moll Bonnie later becomes. DeTogne’s Clyde is all brash and swagger, and sees robbing banks and killing law enforcement (and eventual imprisonment) as a legitimate career choice in Great Depression-era Texas. He and Gonzalez display wonderful chemistry in both their acting and vocal work.

The sheriff and deputies (Patrick Tierney, Jacob Fjare, Jon Patrick Penick, Jonathan Schwart) put forth their best efforts to find the elusive pair, and their frustration and determination grow proportionally as Bonnie and Clyde continue unrepentant throughout several states. Clyde’s brother Buck and sister-in-law Blanche (Cisco Lopez and Missy Wise, both terrific) eventually join Bonnie and Clyde on their on their crime sprees, with a predictable end for each. The strong supporting cast also turns in excellent performances, both as singers and actors.

The score deftly combines elements of traditional musical theatre with hints of Sondheim and Schwartz, as well rockabilly and bluegrass, and the scenes in church show their deep roots in Southern Gospel. Spencer Neiman’s inspired direction takes on a breathless pace when Bonnie and Clyde are talking guns and violence, yet it turns to gentle and quiet during moments of intimacy between the two. Ashley Ann Woods’ scenic design is a beautiful symphony of neutrals that perfectly captures Texas in the 1920’s and 30’s: dry, shabby, faded, sun-bleached wood and fabric that houses Bonnie’s and Clyde’s once and future homes. Also hidden at the top of the set is the top-notch band: John Cockerill (conductor/keyboards), Simeon Tsanev (fiddle), Cesar Romero (guitar), and Mark Linley (percussion).

As long as charismatic lawbreakers create a legend about themselves and show their true colors unapologetically — like Al Capone and Charles Manson — some people somewhere will find a way to try to be near them, to appropriate them, to rationalize them, to idolize them, and continue telling their tales. Bonnie and Clyde’s story contains all the elements of such a familiar and celebrated crime story, with the aspect of a tragic and passionate love affair. The musical at Theater Wit is a fabulous return to this period in our nation’s criminal history — only you will luckily escape unscathed.

BONNIE & CLYDE runs through October 15th. For more information visit  kokandyproductions.com.

About author

Elizabeth Ellis

Elizabeth is an actor, playwright, musician, and a graduate of De Paul University. She studied theatre and improvisation at the Second City Training Center, the Actors’ Center, and at the Royal National Theatre Studio in London. Elizabeth has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Tympanic Theatre, Congo Square Theatre, Second City's Children's Theatre, Stage Left Theatre, Bailiwick Arts Center, and London's Canal Cafe Theatre. Six of her plays have been chosen as part of the Abbie Hoffman and the Around the Coyote festivals.

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