Inside BONNIE & CLYDE Part Four: Wildhorn’s Music on Stage

Inside BONNIE & CLYDE Part Four: Wildhorn’s Music on Stage

Pictured: Desiree Gonzalez as Bonnie and Max DeTogne as Clyde. Photo by Evan Hanover.

In this 4-part series, PerformInk takes you inside Kokandy Productions’ BONNIE & CLYDE through blog posts written by the people behind the scenes. To read past INSIDE articles, click here.

By John Cockerill

If you’ve read the previous posts in this series, you know some of the gritty realities in the history of the infamous Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. They dreamt of lives of wealth, luxury, and fame but it’s only through their legacy that they actually achieved them. Their deeds were romanticized by the newspapers of their day, as well as by the numerous depictions of them in film and television over the past eighty years. But what, I ask you, is more glamorous than having your life story told in a Broadway musical? There’s nothing like adding music to a tale to heighten emotion, drama, and romance.

Frank Wildhorn’s score for BONNIE & CLYDE features a wonderful, albeit frequently anachronistic, variety of musical styles to depict location and character. Country music dominates the score, which is fitting as the action takes place in Texas and other southern states. Young Bonnie’s music, before she gets too involved with Clyde, is characterized by a 1930s jazz style and it expresses a certain naïveté and her longing to be a film star. Clyde’s musical style is country rock, frequently tinged with blues, which is perfect for capturing his character’s reckless, desperate spirit. Most of the duets Bonnie sings with Clyde are in his infectious musical style; she doesn’t get to dictate the tone until the finale, where her innocent jazz theme is reprised. One other character that gets her own distinct musical style is Clyde’s sister-in-law, Blanche, whose music sounds like straight up Dolly Parton-esque country. This style represents the simple, wholesome life that she craves.

When music directing a show, there aren’t as many artistic liberties to be taken as in the other elements of theatre (stage direction, set/costume design, etc.). The music is there on the page in literal black and white. While there are certain interpretive choices to be made, a big decision that will affect the sound of the show, especially if the band is reduced to a smaller number than the original orchestration, is deciding what instruments to use. For our purposes, we could have a band of four people. Piano and drums were a given, and I couldn’t imagine doing a country show without a guitar, but we wanted an additional melodic instrument that would fit in the variety of musical styles that make up the show. We settled on the violin (or “fiddle”), an instrument as equally at home in country and folk music, as in early jazz.

A final thought about the music in this show that’s been fascinating me for the past few days: there are two musical motives that recur over and over. One is a gently rising one-measure vamp that is part of Bonnie’s optimistic jazz theme mentioned above. It opens and closes the show, and appears in several transitions, but always in its original form. A completely different descending motive made up of triplets is somewhat of a chameleon. It shows up in several tender moments between the lovers, but as the violence progresses, it takes on a more sinister tone as the story is propelled to its inevitable conclusion.

Kokandy Productions BONNIE & CLYDE runs August 27th – October 15th. For more information visit

About author

John Cockerill

is a collaborative pianist, vocal coach and music director, and he’s delighted to be working on his first show with Kokandy Productions! Recent credits include: María de Buenos Aires (Des Moines Metro Opera), Xanadu (American Theatre Company), and High Fidelity (Refuge Theatre Project). He was a featured pianist on the premiere recording of Ross Crean’s opera, The Great God Pan (Navona Records, 2017), and he’ll be joining Chicago Fringe Opera for their upcoming season of As One and The Great God Pan.