Behind the Scenes at Bonnie & Clyde

There’s not much I love more about New York than Broadway. Hence, when Theater Advisor asked me to be a guest blogger, see the new show Bonnie & Clyde and recap a post-show Q&A event with some of the cast and creative team, I jumped at the chance.

The tale of Bonnie and Clyde is one of those legendary American stories that everyone knows at least a little bit about. However, only knowing the fragment about love and crime (I didn’t even know exactly what happened to them in the end, but I won’t spoil it here!), I decided to watch the classic 1967 movie with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway the night before. With that in my head before the actual show I figured I’d be able to focus more on the creative characteristics of the show itself and not merely the plot. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the show itself. The acting was wonderful and I found the songs catchy, unlike some die-hard critics out there. The simple, yet flawlessly transformable set could have easily stolen the show, but instead it functioned as an additional character with the sole purpose of connecting everything that was happening on stage. Overall, I was able to completely give myself over to the story and be swept away by the magic of Broadway.

After the performance, the show held a digital media Q&A at Hurley’s Saloon. Director Jeff Calhoun, scenic/costume designer Tobin Ost and cast members Claybourne Elder (Butch Barrow) and Melissa van der Schyff (Blanche Barrow) were in attendance and took turns answering questions related to the show, its relationship to the movie and how the real characters in the story might have reacted to the musical today.

After several questions regarding the iconic film, Calhoun commented that he did not set out to make a musical based on a movie, but rather, wanted to create a show based on a real American story – not an easy feat in the world of never-ending movie-to-Broadway musicals.

“New musicals are hard to come by,” he said. “I’m an independent contractor. I don’t write. So I’m at the mercy of finding material that speaks to me. I spent the last five years developing this show because I love it and I’m proud of it.”

Taking a unique approach to a musical and not including any large production dance numbers, Calhoun said he thinks of Bonnie & Clyde as “a play with music.”

Jeremy Jordan and Laura Osnes as Bonnie and Clyde  (Photo by: Nathan Johnson)

Because Broadway has seen its fair share of wackadoodle musicals (I won’t name names), the creators of this show took a risk in putting on a production essentially about criminals. I’ve heard plenty of chit chat about the implausibility of creating a musical, which is usually lighthearted, about murder and poverty. However, every musical I’ve seen seems to have some sort of take home message. For Bonnie & Clyde, the love story was pronounced and the criminals got what they deserved, but the show really emphasized the economic climate in America during that time in our history and the injustices committed on both sides of the gun, so to say. 

“Poverty made Clyde a criminal. Jail made him a murderer. Only in America at that time in our history, could two such animals have been created,” Calhoun said, adding that the show was created to be the most truthful telling of the actual events as possible, while the film was “very ‘Hollywood’ and loose with the facts.”

Van der Schyff added to that saying, “I think it’s interesting how one wrong choice can steer your life in the wrong direction.” She followed that up by noting that the choice Blanche made to follow Butch into a life of crime may have been well-intentioned (in her mind she was standing by her man), but ultimately ended up, let’s just say, poorly. 

Melissa van der Schyff, Claybourne Elder, Louis Hobson and Jeremy Jordan (Photo by: Nathan Johnson)
Taking inspiration from all of the “dilapidated barns” near his home in rural Pennsylvania, Ost said the “total organic process” of creating the set enabled him to fabricate something that would flow seamlessly with the fast-paced script. In addition, the set was filled with symbolism, right down to the topography which Calhoun said was “as perilous as the times that [Bonnie and Clyde] were living in.”

In terms of how the real Bonnie and Clyde would react to the fanfare of a Broadway musical about them, Calhoun said, “I think they’d be thrilled that there was a movie, and they’d be thrilled that there was a play. They were egomaniacal and they really did both want to be famous in their own right.”

Both van der Schyff and Elder said they go into every performance not only thinking about the personalities of the real Buck and Blanche, but also about their collective spiritual presence. “We like to set an intention before each show that if [the character’s] spirits are with us that they would hopefully be happy that we’re telling their story with the intention of maybe someone is going to make a different choice in their life tonight,” van der Schyff said.

“That’s all you could ever hope for, that someone would be changed by what you do,” Elder added. “This show is a really amazing opportunity to do that because of the story.”

Summing up, Calhoun said he went into this show with the objective to create something truly original. “I try to do shows for better or for worse that don’t look like other shows,” he said. “At least if I stole, it was by mistake. I think we have our own integrity, our own DNA. It’s actually adult storytelling and I like that. I’m proud of that. The audiences that like it appreciate it on that level and I’m really grateful for that.”

To save up to 30%  on tickets for Bonnie & Clyde through December 30, 2011, visit Broadway Box, call 212-947-8844 or visit the box office at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater at 236 W. 45th Street and use code BCBBX909.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post. Loved your thoughts! I remember watching the film Bonnie and Clyde and discussing it in film class during college. If there are any good deals in 2012 will definitely check this out!


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