Review by Daz Gale
Everyone’s favourite outlaws are back to raise a little Hell once more after showing us all how the West End was won with their sensational run at the Arts theatre last year. Despite being criminally overlooked at this years Olivier awards, Bonnie & Clyde won a whole host of acclaim and a legion of fans during their short run. This show was clearly the most wanted when it came to musicals opening this year so it should come as no surprise that they are back, bigger than ever in their new temporary home of the Garrick theatre. While they are only set to be there for 11 weeks before escaping once more, can they repeat the success of their first London run. And does bigger necessarily mean better?
Before I start the review, I should turn myself in. It’s no secret what a huge fan I am of this show. From the moment I saw the concert production at Drury Lane last January, I was obsessed. I made so many repeat trips to the run at the Arts theatre last year, anyone would have thought I’d robbed a bank for tickets. The show ended up being my favourite show of the year – a declaration that you can currently see outside the Garrick Theatre. With a lot of changes being teased ahead of the show opening, there was always the concern I would hold last years production in higher regard. As it turns out, there was no need to worry at all.
The musical adaptation of Bonnie & Clyde was first seen on Broadway in 2011 but took until 2022 to make its first outing in the West End, initially with a concert and then a full run. Telling the story of the famous outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, the musical charts their lives from childhood to their first meeting, how they fell in love and (spoiler alert) their deaths. Ivan Menchell’s book takes the notorious figures and fully fleshes out their stories, enabling us to fall in love with the pair… even when they are killing people. The expert writing which continues to evolve with each new production of the show gets continuously better each time effortlessly able to steal your heart.
With music by Frank Wildhorn and lyrics by Don Black, the songs that make up Bonnie & Clyde have long been favourites among musical theatre fans and it isn’t hard to see why. Elements of more classic sounding musical theatre songs are joined by folk, blues and gospel numbers in a versatile but consistently glorious soundtrack. Musical highlights include the earworm ‘This World Will Remember Me’, the sweet lullaby ‘Bonnie’ and an undoubted highlight among the two female leads ‘You Love Who You Love’. The musical direction by Nick Barstow perfectly realises these incredible songs.
Many of the cast from last years production have returned once more with Frances Mayli McCann and Jordan Luke Gage reprising their roles as the ill-fated lovers. If they were both sensational in the roles last year, this year they have moved up a level in elevated performances that are of the highest possible standard. Frances captivates with her ravishing portrayal of the conflicted Bonnie, never quite knowing whether to stay or go – all she knows for sure is her love for Clyde and Frances uses that to form the basis of her well-rounded and flawlessly performed character. Her spine-tingling rendition of ‘Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad’ provides the vocal highlight of the evening in a true masterclass performance.
Jordan Luke Gage is at his best as Clyde Barrow, tapping in to elements from past roles to embody a character who can be charming and charismatic in one moment and sinister and dangerous in the next. I have spoken before about how mesmerising his performance of huge number ‘Raise A Little Hell’ is and, this time around, it is even more jaw dropping with Jordan tapping in to the desperation of a man pushed to his limit. Always a delight to watch, it’s his differing relationships with his girlfriend, brother and sister-in-law which really allows Jordan to have fun with his versatility as an actor.
The decision to have both Jordan and Frances play their younger characters as opposed to the child actors seen in last years production means its down to Jordan to deliver a powerful monologue in a climactic scene - one that allows more depth to the character and another chance for him to prove what a formidable performer he really is. The chemistry Frances and Jordan have is second to none, with their duet ‘Too Late To Turn Back Now’ a true example of how two performers can form one cohesive unit when the chemistry is just right.
George Maguire returns once again to play Clyde’s brother Buck. Often getting overshadowed by the bigger characters such as his brother and his wife, the way George allows this to happen with an understated performance only goes to add to the brilliance of his performance. His reactions during Blanche’s number ‘You’re Goin’ Back To Jail’ are among the funniest of the show and his duet with Jordan on ‘When I Drive’ is always an undoubted highlight.
Jodie Steele is new to the cast this year playing Buck’s wife Blanche. Known for her scene-stealing performances in shows including Heathers and But I’m A Cheerleader, Jodie is once again on top form here with her strong valued and at times domineering characterisation. Showcasing a beautiful chemistry with George Maguire, Jodie gives a tour-de-force performance and once again proves what a remarkable talent she is. Her standout moment is in the stunning ‘That’s What You Call A Dream’ which is now more heartbreaking than ever thanks to the addition of a tragic reprise.
Also new this year is Dom Hartley-Harris as Preacher completely taking us to Church with a revitalised ‘God’s Arms Are Always Open’ which challenged the capabilities of what one performer can do thanks to Dom’s unrivalled knack for singing, dancing and transporting us all to where he is with ease. The main cast are completed by Cleve September as Ted. While he may have lost his musical number ‘Here In Our Hearts’, he more than makes up for it with a more important than ever ‘You Can Do Better Than Him’. Carrying the heart of the show and at times being the eyes of the audience, Cleve is better than ever this time around, thanks to a couple of new moments his character gets to be present in.
The supporting cast all get moments to shine in their own right. Barney Wilkinson takes on a variety of roles but its his brief turn as Archie that is scene-stealing while Pippa Winslow and Julie Yammanee both get heart wrenching moments in their time as Clyde and Bonnies mothers respectively. Pippa's breakdown after a key plot development is the most emotional moment in the show while a slightly enhanced role for Bonnie's mother allows Julie to play to her strengths and command the stage for the brief time she is in those shoes.
The production value this time around has stepped up a gear. Alexzandra Sarmiento’s choreography comes alive thanks to the gorgeous new set design by Phillip Witcomb. A grander stage means more possibilities and Bonnie & Clyde well and truly take advantage of that this time around. New props and even entire new scenes make the whole thing feel a bit more slick than it was before and takes an already faultless production into pure perfection. A great use of lighting design by Zoe Spurr and sound design by Tom Marshall ensures every production element is as flawless as it can be, while Nick Winstons genius direction makes the whole thing pop. A special mention has to go to Nina Dunn's fabulous video design which sets the scenes and brings the story to life in a way that goes one better than last years production manages.
As for the aforementioned changes, this year there is a new scene involving Bonnie’s mother, ingeniously using words the real Bonnie Parker wrote to her. This scene packs a real gut punch and adds an extra layer of emotion to the inevitable climax. New snippets of dialogue as well as the new staging means the show is better than ever this time around.
If 2022 Bonnie & Clyde was already a sensation, the 2023 production ups the ante to create what I believe to be the definitive version of this show. With more of a sense of what works and how to make the most of every moment, the creative team have moulded something truly special, while many of the cast are now so settled into the roles from last year, they know what makes their characters tick. Perhaps the break since the show was last in London has led to more urgency but this time around, the show really is as good as it gets.
A show as sensational as this deserves a permanent home in the West End for an open-ended run. But with a show this phenomenal, I’ll take what I can get. After all, a short and loving run ain’t so bad. It really would be a crime to miss this killer show.
Bonnie & Clyde The Musical plays at the Garrick Theatre until 20th May. Tickets from nimaxtheatres.com
Photos by The Other Richard