Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow mean so many things to so many people that they could never be fully distilled into one play.  Yet good and entertaining drama often comes of their tale.  This musical uses Bonnie & Clyde’s legend (including a handful of historical details, plus some popular myths from the 1930s media circus) to explore two themes:

1.
How lovers – MANY lovers – fall deeper and deeper into questionable, madcap, funny, even dangerous relationships, passing up clear opportunities to bail out.
2. 

WHY they seem to do this – because joining romantically is often the way people transcend their own smallness.  If Bonnie and Clyde had never met, we probably never would have heard of them.  Together, they became notorious. 

Other artists have had different takes.  Pulp magazines of the thirties featured stories about the pair.  The 1937 movie “You Only Live Twice” envisioned its central lovers as victims of a society that doesn’t offer real hope to ex-convicts, while “The Bonnie Parker Story” of 1958 had a more cynical tone.  Countless books, cartoons, and skits were also written before the popular 1967 film. 

Yet these takes were largely sensationalized.  The real Clyde, a heterosexual, was not especially charming or audacious (though he did leave a string of bodies).  The real Bonnie, who was oddly known as a “nice” girl while growing up, had real reservations about the hellion image she was acquiring.  This musical humorously explores that.

Yet Hollywood hardly invented the myths that buried these facts.  Well before Bonnie and Clyde were fatally ambushed by law enforcement, editorials and cartoons depicted a wild pair of lovers joyfully tearing up the Midwest.  Myths were born, and Bonnie and Clyde audaciously played along, taking staged pictures of themselves and mailing provocative accounts into newspapers.  

While this musical traffics in the resulting myths, it is substantially different from the various prior tellings.  Written in a minimalist, two-person mode, it envisions Bonnie and Clyde not as icons but as heightened versions of any Jack and Jill falling into a questionable relationship – read: most of us at one time or another.  It suggests that the line between our own occasionally bickering love affairs and that of two serial killers might be a thin one.

The authors did not fall victim to a slavish devotion to this universal, minimalist theatricality.  There are certain expectations any audience seems to bring to a work called “Bonnie and Clyde,” and this show respects them:

1. They expect fun.  This is not because of Hollywood; many saw Bonnie & Clyde as fun before they were even dead.  They were viewed as the wild pair who did unto foreclosing banks what others in the Great Depression could only dream of doing.  Thus, this piece is written to spotlight two fun, plucky performers.
2. 

They expect at least some feeling of historical authenticity.  There is a hefty acknowledgement here of the fame and anguish Bonnie and Clyde stumbled into, including newspaper articles about their exploits.

3. They expect love.  No matter how much these lovers may have bickered, there’s no denying the devotion that leads such people to stay together. 
4. They expect to get something – anything – they haven’t gotten from other versions of the tale.  The authors structured most scenes to reveal at least one uncommonly-known detail about the characters.

Small cast musicals are common as of late, as are musicals that take a fun, tuneful approach to dark subject matter.  Yet this one, at 80 minutes, aims for a further economy.  Bonnie and Clyde moved very fast, and that leaves scant time for lengthy historical exposition, social commentary, or thematic point-pounding.  Instead, the themes of this piece come alive in the old fashioned way – by being ever present in the words of its creators.

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