Frank Wildhorn, whose deservedly short-lived musical Wonderland briefly emerged from a rabbit hole beneath Times Square earlier this year, is back on Broadway just eight months later. His new musical, Bonnie & Clyde, comes from the same theatrical playbook. Take a familiar story (Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel, the Civil War), add a genial but not exactly memorable pop score, and then plant your actor/singers downstage to sing those numbers with very little thought to creating drama (let alone genuine interaction with fellow performers).
To Wildhorn’s credit, Bonnie & Clyde boasts one of his better scores — though he seems oddly allergic to harmony and none of the songs are likely to linger long in your head once you leave the theater. What you may remember is Jeremy Jordan’s muscular, clear baritone as Clyde Barrow. Fresh from his stint as Jack Kelly in the Newsies musical earlier this fall, Jordan has the potential to be a head-turning leading man of the stage. It’s unfortunate, though, that he’s been directed to play Clyde mostly as a petulant thug. And when it comes to chemistry with his leading lady (the surprisingly flat-footed Laura Osnes), the sparks are more cap-pistol than tommy-gun.
Director Jeff Calhoun does his talented cast no favors. He oddly eschews any formal choreography, even for songs that seem to cry out for dance (Bonnie’s first act solo is titled ”How ‘Bout a Dance”). And he seems intent on showing off his leads’ lithe bodies in ways that make little dramatic sense: There are three separate scenes in which Osnes begins wearing scanty underclothes, puts on a dress or skirt on stage, and then removes it again. Poor Osnes even has to pick up the opening number mid-song, stepping in for an early-teen version of Bonnie. The problem? The sensational Kelsey Fowler, as young Bonnie, has a natural Broadway belt that just overpowers Osnes’ sweet but comparatively thin voice.
Ivan Menchell’s script mostly propels the story forward while never managing to establish why this outlaw duo so seized the public imagination. We see bank patrons ask for Bonnie’s autograph during a holdup, for instance, but we never really grasp why — especially since the scene ends with Clyde gunning down the teller. And there’s no good explanation for why Clyde’s deeply religious sister-in-law (Melissa Van der Schyff, who has a lovely second-act ballad, ”That’s What You Call a Dream”) joins her husband on the lam. The production’s biggest success may be Aaron Rhyne’s projections, which include vintage photos of the real-life models for the characters on stage — including their mug shots. It makes you wonder what another team might have made of this promising material. Wildhorn’s Bonnie & Clyde aims for kiss-kiss-bang-bang, but too often it’s just firing blanks. C
(Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800-432-7250)