The real-life Bonnie and Clyde were gunned down by Texas lawmen and died on a rural road in Louisiana. But the much-buzzed about Bonnie & Clyde musical could end up on Broadway, especially if local theatregoers embrace the show.
The original production based on the lives of the famed Depression-era bank robbers has been touted as Big Apple bound since before the first day of Sarasota rehearsals. Its creators rank among the most acclaimed talents in show business. Producers from New York and abroad have been invited to attend. Investors final decisions will be rooted in the performance and audience reaction.
Broadway producers have already invested a significant amount of money into this show, said Asolo producing artistic director Michael Edwards at a recent press event. How it goes here will determine whether it goes to Broadway.
Bonnie & Clyde marks the start of the main-stage season at the Asolo Repertory Theatre with previews beginning Nov. 12 and an official opening on Nov. 19. It runs through Dec. 19.
The Asolo already has experience sending a production to Manhattan. In 2007, under Edwards guidance, A Tale of Two Cities had its world premiere in Sarasota, enjoying a sold-out run. It opened on Broadway the following year and earned three Drama Desk Award nominations, including one for James Barbour (as Sydney Carton) in the Outstanding Actor in a Musical category. If Bonnie & Clyde lands on the Great White Way, area stage enthusiasts will likely be rewarded with more high-caliber, pre-Broadway runs.
Im already hoping to do more stuff here in the future, said the famed Frank Wildhorn while lounging in the Asolo green room last month.
In 1999, Wildhorn became the first American composer in more than 20 years to have three shows run simultaneously on Broadway. His Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Civil War each were box office hits that earned multiple Tony nominations.
Before making his name in New York, Wildhorn grew up in Broward County and played football for Hollywood Hills High School. His mother lives in Delray Beach. In 1991, Wildhorns Gothic musical Svengali premiered at the Alley Theatre in Houston and won the Alton Jones Foundation Award before moving to the Asolo. The cast included Chuck Wagner as Svengali and Linda Eder (Wildhorns then-future wife) as Trilby.
The composer returns to the region to fine-tune his Bonnie & Clyde and Wonderland musicals. The new Alice adventure premiered last year at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. It will return there for performances Jan. 4-16 before a scheduled spring run on Broadway.
This is an amazing time for me, Wildhorn said. The fact that Wonderland is going to Broadway and we have high hopes for Bonnie & Clyde, and the fact that theyre going to overlap this will still be running when Wonderland starts rehearsal in Tampa thats a pretty cool thing. You cant plan that stuff. Its wonderful that its happening and its great for my connection to this place.
In the beginning
Bonnie & Clyde began as part of an album for Eder Wildhorns ex-wife, close friend, harshest critic, muse and frequent collaborator. Wildhorn had conceived a series of song cycles about historical and literary couples for the lauded actress/singer. He would compose the music and collaborate with his favorite lyricists.
The album first began morphing into a major musical when Wildhorn contacted Songwriters Hall of Famer Don Black. The English lyricist has written numerous pop hits such as Lulus To Sir, With Love, Michael Jacksons Ben and Shirley Basseys Diamonds are Forever, as well as winning a Tony Award for Sunset Boulevard. Black chose Bonnie & Clyde immediately after seeing Wildhorns list.
Ironically, the first demos were done by Linda, of course, and Michael Lanning, whos in (Bonnie & Clyde), Wildhorn said. What happened was we fell in love with the subject and started doing more research and said, Why are we stopping? Thats kind of where it really started.
Bonnie & Clyde features a book by Ivan Menchell (The Cemetery Club, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), music by Wildhorn and lyrics by Black. Director/choreographer Jeff Calhouns credits include Big River, Grease, The Will Rogers Follies, and the national tour of 9 to 5: The Musical, which recently played the Straz.
Despite sharing a title, Bonnie & Clyde is not a musical adaptation of recently deceased director Arthur Penns classic 1967 film, which starred Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow and Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker.
This has nothing to do with the movie, Menchell said. It starts with Bonnie and Clyde at 10 years old.
The musicals book writer concentrated on fleshing out the characters beyond their killing sprees famously depicted, often in startling close-up, by Penn. Menchell researched the real-life criminals by reading the numerous accounts penned by those whose lives were directly affected by them.
Anyone they aimed a gun at wrote a book, he cracked, unless they were killed.
Bonnie & Clyde had its world premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse in November 2009. The San Diego Theatre Critics Circle honored it as Outstanding New Musical. The Los Angeles Times called Wildhorns score undeniably impressive. But the show presented here will be significantly different than the one staged in Southern California.
Seven of the 18 songs are previously unheard, including the freshly composed Made in America. There are alterations to the structure of the story. New scenes replace old ones. The creators also altered the tone of the play set mostly during the Great Depression to reflect the mood of our modern Great Recession.
Ive always loved America, Black said over a cup of tea in an Asolo meeting room. Coming from the East End of London, I was raised on those kind of movies and Gary Cooper films, whatever. And I loved that language. It just appealed to me. Americana. I love that small-town American literature. Anything to do with that kind of writing I like. And then (Wildhorn) sent me a couple of melodies and they were so evocative of the period, of the dust bowl thing. It wasnt typical Frank Wildhorn. I would have never thought he wrote them. Which I think is a compliment. Youd think it was Woody Guthrie or somebody. It was really different.
In keeping with the realism of the non-traditional score that combines rockabilly, blues, gospel and period-appropriate pop, Calhoun cast actors who were close in age to the actual Bonnie and Clyde. This pretty much eliminated any names with the singing chops to play the title roles. Were bucking the trend of taking a star from TV, Calhoun said. We want to discover stars even though the producers want an established star. The title is the star of the show. Were convinced thats the best way to go.
During its San Diego run, 24-year-old Laura Osnes, best known for her roles in the Broadway revivals of Grease (as Sandy) and South Pacific (as Nellie Forbush) played Bonnie. Stark Sands, currently on Broadway as Tunny in American Idiot, portrayed Clyde. Osnes happily returns as Ms. Parker for the Sarasota and potential New York run.
Theres a part of Bonnie I really can connect with, she said after a recent rehearsal. I love how she wanted to be a performer. I want to be a performer. She writes poetry. I enjoy writing poetry. Yknow? There are things we have in common. Obviously Im not a murderer (laugh) but, yeah, its wonderful just to get to play someone who has the same life experiences as I do and in that many years.
Jeremy Jordan, who played Tony in the Broadway revival of West Side Story, takes over as Clyde. He and Osnes spent a week together in Sarasota with the creatives, bonding before the rest of the cast, which largely consists of La Jolla members, arrived. The time allowed them to create the chemistry that must translate on stage in order for this production to be a success. Because, at its essence, Bonnie & Clyde is a tragic romance.
I identify with his relationship with Bonnie, Jordan said after rehearsing a particularly steamy scene with her. And why that drives him to do everything he does. I think the main plot point of the story is theyre really madly in love and will do anything for each other. Shes going down with him because if hes he dead then shes dead, too. He feels the same way about her.
Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at (941) 745-7057. Follow him on Twitter: @accentbradenton. His blog, Buzz Worthy, can be found at bradenton.com/blogs.