BY DAN ARMONAITIS
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were criminals responsible for numerous robberies and murders in the early 1930s yet their exploits turned them into American folk icons who are still remembered 85 years after they were killed in an ambush by law enforcement officers on May 23, 1934.
While their story is perhaps best known through Arthur Penn’s groundbreaking 1967 film, “Bonnie and Clyde,” which starred Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in the title roles, it has also been told in the form of a musical that premiered in 2009 and later played on Broadway.
The Market Theatre in Anderson is presenting its production of “Bonnie & Clyde: The Musical” through June 2. The show is the first in a series of 14 productions that comprise the Anderson Theatre Festival, which involves multiple theatre companies and will continue through the summer at various venues in the county.
Playing the roles of Bonnie and Clyde in The Market Theatre’s production, Mariel Zmarzly and Matt Groves provide stellar performances, displaying a charming onstage chemistry that perfectly captures the romance aspect of their characters’ relationship.
Bonnie was a waitress when Clyde met her in West Dallas, Texas, at a time when the couple were barely out of their teens. Prior to that initial meeting, youthful versions of the characters — played solidly by Camila Escobar and Gregory Middleton — appear briefly on stage, revealing Bonnie as a wannabe movie star with dreams of becoming the next Clara Bow and Clyde as a troubled youngster who idolizes gangsters Al Capone and Billy the Kid.
Other notable performances in The Market Theatre’s production are provided by Jonathan Long and Lauren Renner as Clyde’s brother, Buck, and sister-in-law, Blanche, respectively, and Cam Johnston in the role of Ted Hinton, a young law enforcement officer who once had eyes for Bonnie and ultimately ends up being part of the posse that kills Bonnie and Clyde.
The musical includes a few plotline differences from the classic movie but has a similar spirit in that it’s fast-paced, and often humorous, with the criminals portrayed as likable protagonists. Given the harsh realities of the Great Depression, it’s easy to understand why a desperate populace would become fascinated by outlaws who seemed to represent a backlash against the American banking system that had let so many of them down.
The rustic feel of the Anderson Arts Center, in which The Market Theatre is housed, provides an ideal setting for the Depression era timeline of the show, and director Dalton Cole should be commended for making expert use of the limited space. While “Bonnie & Clyde: The Musical” did once have a Broadway run, it seems to work even better in an intimate environment that allows the audience to feel like they’re almost a part of the show.
While it was the raucous bluegrass soundtrack of Flatt & Scruggs that propelled the famous movie version of the story, “Bonnie & Clyde: The Musical” is driven by an eclectic collection of songs that includes elements of vintage-style jazz, blues, gospel, country and pop. The score was composed by Frank Wildhorn, who is best known for the Broadway hit “Jekyll & Hyde” and for co-writing Whitney Houston’s No. 1 hit “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.”
Highlights include the rousing “Raise a Little Hell,” sung by Groves as Clyde in the first act, and the gospel-infused “God’s Arms Are Always Open,” which was sung soulfully by Ken Thomason as The Preacher and inspired clapping from the audience, as well as the pensive “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad,” which was given proper emotional treatment by Zmarzly as Bonnie.
While not as memorable as the 1967 film about the famed outlaws, “Bonnie & Clyde: The Musical” is nonetheless an enjoyable romp that provides a refreshing escape from the typical fare that most community theatre companies present year after year.
“Bonnie & Clyde: The Musical” continues with performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 31 and Saturday, June 1 and at 3 p.m. Sunday, June 2 at The Market Theatre, 110 Federal St. Suite 6, Anderson. Call 864-729-2999 or visit www.themarketanderson.org.