A list of America’s favorite bank robbers would surely include Jesse James, Willie Sutton, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and the glamorous lovers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who tore around the Midwest in the 1930s shooting people and making headlines. What does it say about our culture when one of our most enduring homegrown myths revolves around guns and fast cars?
To answer that question, 11th Hour Theatre Company’s Next Step Concert Series presents Bonnie and Clyde by Frank Wildhorn (music), Don Black (lyrics), and Ivan Menchell (book). The couple became infamous during the Depression, when newspapers glamorized their wild ride through the country, turning them into folk heroes. The 1930s were desperate times in America: In a final absurdity, it became impossible to rob banks because the banks themselves had no money. The 1967 movie revisited the story with Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, who brought plenty of glamour to the roles.
There’s not much glamour in this production. Central to the lack is Angel J. Sigala as Clyde, who has none of the bad-boy charm, the sexy, reckless charisma that should make us understand why Bonnie (Rita Castagna) falls for him; there is no visible chemistry between the two leads despite a lot of smooching. Although we’re supposed to sympathize with her need to escape the dreariness of her mother’s rural life, as presented here her teenage longings seem merely shallow: She wants diamonds and fame and insists on top billing (Bonnie and Clyde, not Clyde and Bonnie).
Megan Nicole O’Brien directs, with Gina Giachero heroically accompanying the singers on piano while conducting the onstage band. The cast, besides the leads, is a game ensemble of 11, playing multiple roles. They all have good voices (the standouts are Tim Hill as the Preacher and Nichalas Parker as the Sheriff), but the plodding script and undistinguished songs often fail them. The show is mired in chronology, dependent on “and then,” and the endless shuffling of script binders, lifted over the microphones and moved from music stand to music stand, seems particularly distracting. Distracting as well is the lighting (Amanda Jensen), which calls too much attention to itself as, for instance, it drenches Clyde in red spotlights as he commits murder.
The music ranges from gospel to rockabilly to ragtime. The best numbers are the duets between the male leads — Clyde and his brother Buck (the excellent Bryan Black) — back to back with a duet sung by Bonnie and her sister-in-law Blanche (the fine Kathleen Borrelli). The full-cast number, “Made in America,” a song about broken dreams, is the obvious claim to relevance for this show’s revival in this time and place. But, finally, with no inclination to root for the bad guy and no inclination to claim the moral high ground, we are left pretty much nowhere.