Amongst the many stand-out moments in Play On Words Productions’ presentation of Bonnie & Clyde: The Musical is when Bonnie, portrayed by Sherry Freeman, explains to her desperate mother why she’s not afraid of the dangerous life path she’s chosen. Freeman, who is absolutely excellent in her role, belts out a heart-wrenching “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad” while bittersweetly preluding what would be the fate of her starry-eyed character.
The musical — adapted from the book by Ivan Menchell, with music by Frank Wildhorn and lyrics by Don Black — is based on the real-life story of Depression-era crime duo Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. As the second full-length production from local up-and-comers Play On Words, the company pays close attention to detail from beginning to end, starting with using host Havana Theatre’s cozy quarters to create an immersive atmosphere — upon entering the venue to take their seats, audience members walk into a live scene that has couples dancing, singing, and drinking.
The story begins at childhood — young Bonnie (Taylor McKee) fantasizes about becoming a movie star like Clara Bow, while young Clyde (Jason Sakaki) is a troublemaker who dreams of being Al Capone or Billy the Kid. Their transition from children to young adults is highlighted by effective staging and a snappy opening number accompanied by the live band that occupies the side of the stage. The band is continuously marvellous in their marriage of ragtime, rockabilly, and gospel throughout the length of the performance, though their volume sometimes overpowers the actors’ singing voices — something likely due to the venue’s intimate space.
When Bonnie and Clyde meet as adults, their attraction is instant and powerful. Charlie Deagnon, with his cheeky smile, is delightful as the hooligan and his chemistry with Freeman is incredible. Their passion is mirrored by the marriage between Clyde’s brother, simple-yet-sweet Buck (William Ford Hopkins), and his wife, the god-fearing Blanche (Cassady Ranford), who, animated as can be, are both joys to watch.
Blanche’s faith makes up a large part of her person and ends up being the deciding factor on following her husband as he goes after his brother and Bonnie, who are on a multi-state crime spree and are the objects of a police manhunt. Though the conservative Blanche and the saucy Bonnie are miles apart in nature, they both share their faith in love — this is emphasized on a beautiful duet, “You Love Who You Love,” which showcases impressive singing chops from Ranford and Freeman.
Compelling performances from the actors, colourful musical numbers, and excellent production from Play On Words brightly outshine Menchell’s sometimes lacking plot — though the notorious couple’s violent demise is no secret, the curtain closes with the assumption that the audience knows the couple is driving towards their death. Nevertheless, here more than ever, it’s about the journey rather than the final destination.
Play On Words Productions’ Bonnie & Clyde: The Musical runs at the Havana Theatre until April 9. More information here.