Robert Tanitch reviews Bonnie & Clyde at the Arts Theatre, London

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, robbing grocery stores, gas stations and banks, captured the public imagination during the Great American Depression and became celebrities as popular as movie stars. People wanted their autographs. The police eventually caught up with them and they were killed in an ambush in 1934.

In 1967 Arthur Penn made a movie, one of the best gangster movies of all time, a classic. Starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty gave the couple all the glamor and stardom Bonnie and Clyde craved.

The film divided the American nation and was widely criticized for its brutal violence and for making far too sympathetic the criminals who were not only robbers but also murderers.

Brilliantly edited, the film was notable for its ever-changing gaits, from violence to lyricism, romance to comedy, a repeating cycle to a snappy 1930s musical score.

The film with lots of cars and lots of bullets is a road movie set in large, open rural areas. How is a stage version supposed to compete with all this?

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Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty are hard to follow. The final image of the couple’s convulsing bodies and their bullet-riddled car is unforgettable.

The musical version premiered in San Diego, California in 2009 and later on Broadway in 2011. The book is by Ivan Menchall. The music is by Frank Wildhorn. The lyrics are by Don Black. The score gained a huge cult audience and the show was long-awaited in the UK.

Earlier this year there were two sold out concerts at Drury Lane Theatre. There is now a full-scale stage production at the Arts Theater superbly directed by Nick Winston and superbly designed by Philip Whitcomb.

The fans came out in droves, sounding like a clique cheering each number. The melodic songs, country, gospel and rock are very enjoyable. As in the film, there is a lot of empathy and pity for the couple, two dreamers bored with their lives and their poverty and looking for a better and more exciting life.

There are enjoyable performances from Frances Mayli McCann and Jordan Luke Gage as Bonnie and Clyde, and good support from George Maguire as Clyde’s brother and Natalie McQueen as the brother’s wife.

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Robert Tanitch reviews Bonnie & Clyde at the Arts Theatre, London

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