Review by Daz Gale
Since its first West End run, fans of Bonnie & Clyde have been dyin' for a cast recording featuring the West End cast. While the cast and social media team have raised a little Hell with teases, the album has finally been released... more than two months after the show wrapped up its second West End run. But will this cast recording be able to do the show and its legion of fans justice, making it one this world will remember or will the whole thing feel criminal?
For those not familiar, Bonnie & Clyde is the story of the notorious outlaws, charting their first meeting and leading up to their (spoiler alert) deaths. The musical already had a cast recording from its time on Broadway featuring the amazing Jeremy Jordan, but the fact the show continued to evolve as it hit the West End and the outstanding talent that was the cast (not to mention an unproblematic Bonnie) more than justified its own cast recording.
The music from the legendary Frank Wildhorn is of the highest quality full of songs that became instant classics and have haunted the heads of musical theatre fans for years. Don Black’s lyrics brilliantly narrate the story in often playful and creative ways in a beautiful partnership with Wildhorn’s music. Also present in this cast recording are smattering of Ivan Menchell’s book as key pieces of dialogue appear before and during songs, not just adding context to anyone listening who may not have seen the show but making this feel like an audio show in itself rather than solely a cast recording.
Attempting to capture the same magic in the recording studio that audiences witnessed on stage every night isn’t always the easiest with several cast recordings in recent years missing the mark for one reason or another. I’m pleased to say this isn’t the case here with outstanding production from Katy Richardson and Sam Featherstone, perfect vocals and gorgeous orchestrations making the musical resonate through your ears in the most glorious way. An orchestra led by Nick Barstow don’t just bring the songs to life in this different medium but manage to immortalise the spectacular songs in a way befitting of their high standard.
The key factor to what makes this cast recording so special is, of course, its incredible cast. Frances Mayli McCann has been with Bonnie & Clyde since the beginning of its UK journey, having stepped in relatively last minute to the Jeremy Jordan starring concert production in early 2022 after she-who-must-not-be-named got herself cancelled. Immediately it became clear what an exceptional talent Frances was with Bonnie Parker feeling like the role she was born to play. Having made the role her own and become synonymous with it in two subsequent West End runs, this cast recording is a chance to relive her inspired interpretations of the songs and truly impressive vocals. Sounding ravishing on ‘How ‘Bout A Dance’, it is her rousing vocal on ‘Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad' that is the true highlight here. Possibly the greatest moment of the show itself, Frances blesses us with a vocal performance like only she can in a truly perfect performance.
In a show that loves people with Jordan in their name as Clyde, Jordan Luke Gage has embodies Clyde Barrow for two West End runs now, wowing audiences time and time again. Demonstrating a vocal range that seemingly knows no limits and the master of interpreting any song to tell the story in the best possible way, it’s his ‘Raise A Little Hell’ that really blew me away on this recording… as it did every time I saw him perform it in the show, Raw and full of angst, Jordan takes listeners on a journey through that song with some versatile vocals. His chemistry with Frances’ Bonnie makes their duets 'This World Will Remember Us’ and ‘Too Late To Turn Back Now’ other highlights on the album, with their voices blending together beautifully.
Jordan’s duet with brother Buck, played by George Maguire, on ‘When I Drive’ is simply glorious to relive, with George particularly shining on ‘Raise A Little Hell (Reprise)’ and adding a new twist on ‘Now That’s What You Call A Dream (Reprise)’ – a number he was previously silent on in the show. Ted may have had his big solo cut in the second West End run and, in turn, this cast recording, but Cleve September gets a chance to showcase his smooth vocals with a gorgeous ‘You Can Do Better Than Him’, Dom Hartley-Harris takes listeners to church with an exuberant ‘God’s Arms Are Always Open’, also showing the world what a phenomenal vocalist he is on ‘Made In America’.
There hasn’t been a time I have seen Jodie Steele in any performance where I haven’t been blown away by her talent, particularly when it comes to her vocals. On this cast recording, she ensures listeners will have that same feeling every single time they hear her utter a note. She mixes comedy and characterisation with a vocal range that shows no limits on a particularly fabulous ‘You’re Goin’ Back To Jail’ which genuinely had me saying thank you Jesus (twice), while showing a more tender side to her voice on a truly mesmerising ‘Now That’s What You Call A Dream’. Her duet with Frances Mayli McCann on 'You Love Who You Love' is another highlight, with the pairs vocals shining with some stunning harmonies.
For this cast recording, something special has been done for a bonus track. Lauren Jones and Barney Wilkinson, who played the alternate Bonnie & Clyde on both West End runs, get their own song as they take on a very different version of ‘Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad’. Beautifully orchestrated and markedly different from the rest of the album, it is undoubtedly one of the strongest songs on the album. Both impressing with their outstanding vocals, it was a welcome decision to give the alternates their own song – a trend I hope continues it future cast recordings.
It's no secret that I love Bonnie & Clyde. I have reviewed the show in different forms three times and the first West End run was my favourite show of 2022. While I was incredibly excited about the prospect of a cast recording, I was also incredibly nervous. How could it ever live up to the true magic of the show? You may have got a sense from this review (and that star rating at the top) that I completely loved it – and you’d be right. But what makes this cast recording so successful? Quite simply, it manages to capture the real essence of the show and bring the magic to the songs. It never feels like the cast are simply singing the songs but that they are continuing to act the roles in a performance that clearly extended to the recording studio. If you close your eyes, you can see the show taking the place on the stage – and you may even find yourself unconsciously recreating choreography (make sure you have a tyre to hand for ‘When I Drive’. Some shows struggle to translate as well for the cast recordings, and are shown up somewhat without the visuals. That is not a problem here.
While the orchestrations and sound are as exquisite as I dreamed, it is the vocals that make this such a sensational listen. I tried to think of a more coherent and professional way to say “VOCALS FOR DAYS” but sometimes the simplest terms are the best. There are vocals for days here! That entire cast are ridiculously gifted in themselves and in this cast recording, the world gets a chance to take in their tremendous talents. These songs are perfectly recreated from the stage, taking on a new life of their own.
It's safe to say that the cast recording of Bonnie & Clyde ain't so bad - a beautiful addition to a show that has really made a name for itself in the UK. Every bit as exceptional as the show itself, it effortlessly manages to represent what makes this musical so special. Absolutely perfect in every way, this world will remember this cast recording. Now we just need to get the filmed version of the concert released…
The cast album is now available on CD and to download at bonnieandclydemusical.com/album
Catch Bonnie & Clyde on tour through the UK and Ireland from February 2024. Dates and tickets at bonnieandclydemusical.com