Utah’s first professional mounting of Bonnie & Clyde musical is stupendous in Pioneer Theatre Company production

The 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde was one of New Hollywood’s best artistic triumphs, in setting the story of two Great Depression Era rural bandits to reflect upon the social and cultural attitudes of the Sixties. Arthur Penn, who directed the Academy Award winning film, talked about why he was drawn to the story of two outcasts. “The people who are not outcasts — either psychologically, emotionally, or physically — seem to me a good material for selling breakfast food, but they’re not material for films,” he explained. “What I’m really trying to say through the figure of the outcast is that a society has its mirror in its outcasts. A society would be wise to pay attention to the people who do not belong if it wants to find out what its configuration is and where it’s failing.”

The story of these two Texan outlaws has aged well. In its latest offering, Pioneer Theatre Company (PTC] has scored a stupendous hit in Utah’s first professional mounting of Bonnie & Clyde, a Tony-nominated musical that premiered in San Diego in 2009 and went to Broadway in 2011. The musical includes book by Ivan Menchell, score by Frank Wildhorn and lyrics by Don Black.

Alanna Saunders and Michael William Nigro, Bonnie & Clyde, directed by Gerry McIntyre, Pioneer Theatre Company.
Photo Credit: BW Productions.

Directed and choreographed by Gerry McIntyre, the production sizzles with astutely nuanced performances and plenty of boffo vocals. The PTC production succeeds eminently in making the story of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow as acutely relevant to 2024, as the film accomplished more than two and a half generations ago.   

On opening night, while the first act crackled and popped with all of the right energy, it was an impressive second act that clinched how the cast and production nailed every takeaway of the creative brief for the show.

Alanna Saunders and Michael William Nigro are sensational as Bonnie and Clyde, respectively. Both actors capture the finer details of the evolution of their respective characters, as the narrative progresses. Bonnie is fascinated with Clyde’s love of danger but also acknowledges that if she is to find any intimate gratification with him, it likely will be in embracing his insatiable thirst for committing brazen crimes. When they leave West Dallas, Bonnie gradually becomes more assertive, making her more formidable later in the story. 

Company, Bonnie & Clyde, directed by Gerry McIntyre, Pioneer Theatre Company. Photo Credit: BW Productions.

There is vulnerability in Clyde’s masculinity, especially in the more intimate situations that would occur in their relationship. This is handled subtly but effectively, especially in the scenes that follow a botched bank robbery. Bonnie tells Clyde that she is ready to bolt and head out to Hollywood but Clyde convinces her to stay. But, with the song Too Late to Turn Back Now, one also can see that Bonnie has also decided that if she is staying, she will do everything to assert her equal status with Clyde. 

The leads and the cast shine, notably in the excellent songs of the second act. There also are reprises of first act numbers that set up the conclusion. The pit ensemble, conducted by Tom Griffin, handles Wildhorn’s score with aplomb, which stitches gospel, blues and meaty rock into the musical fabric. 

Made in America, which opens the second act, is marvelous for how well it frames the desperate Great Depression circumstances that frustrated millions. At the height of the crime spree that Bonnie and Clyde had carried out in 1933, the national unemployment rate had reached 33% and bank failures occurred with astounding frequency while the drought-driven Dust Bowl had ravaged farms and crops in the South and Great Plains. 

Dan DeLuca and Gina Milo, Bonnie & Clyde, directed by Gerry McIntyre, Pioneer Theatre Company.
Photo Credit: BW Productions.

The chorus contains a nifty triple rhyme: “We may be in debt/wake up in a sweat/but let’s not forget/we were made in America.” Meanwhile, the preacher’s (Christian Bailsford) condemnation of Bonnie and Clyde does not resonate with the “congregation,” who comprehend why some could feel justified to steal and rob when they have so little with no hope that the situation will improve. It was such a sentiment that catapulted the duo into celebrity status, as well as a secure spot in the American pop culture canon.

The songs in the second act set up the great thematic counterpoints. Just as noteworthy are the performances of Buck, Clyde’s brother (Dan DeLuca), and Blanche Barrow (Gina Milo). They find the right contours in That’s What You Call a Dream, when Buck latches onto Clyde’s plan to find his own version of the American Dream. However, Blanche tells him that a stable family life with her husband is plenty enough to be comfortable. But like Bonnie, she eventually relents to Buck and they join Bonnie and Clyde. 

April Armstrong and Alanna Saunders, Bonnie & Clyde, directed by Gerry McIntyre, Pioneer Theatre Company.
Photo Credit: BW Productions.

Meanwhile, the disappointing reality of not being able to reap the fruits of a strong work ethic and stable family life is amplified in What Was Good Enough For You, when Clyde visits his parents (Daniel Simons and Mary Fanning Driggs). They chastise their son but yet their situation is so dire they accept the money he gives them. Bonnie tells her mother (April Armstrong) that she cannot resign herself to domesticity. Nigro delivers the verse — “The Bible has got it wrong/the meek don’t inherit a thing” — with appropriate stinging bluntness. 

What Was Good Enough For You rings poignantly, because throughout the show we also see the younger versions of Bonnie and Clyde, portrayed by Penny Hodson and Kiyan R. Wyness (on opening night). As children, Bonnie and Clyde already were as jaded and restless as adults could ever be, in reckoning with a dead-end existence in West Dallas.

Daniel Simons, Mary Fanning Driggs, Michael William Nigro, Bonnie & Clyde, directed by Gerry McIntyre, Pioneer Theatre Company. Photo Credit: BW Productions.

Nigro and Saunders deliver the full punch in the show-stopping Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad. They accept the inevitable fate that awaits them, in the trail of violence that has made them infamous. Bonnie refuses Blanche’s plea to save herself and says that she is ready to die with Clyde. 

Like the film, the musical reinforces why Penn’s upheaval of the gangster crime drama, the complex intersections along with the usurping of the traditional gendered roles Bonnie and Clyde represented and the framing of their criminal life as anti-hero and anti-authoritarian have enjoyed generations of staying power in the sociocultural mindset. And, this Utah production ensures that the legend will continue to have long legs. 

The production continues through March 9. For tickets and more information, see the Pioneer Theatre Company website

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