By Tom Titus
February 17, 2015, 4:11 p.m
During their brief lifetimes, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were huge celebrities – or what passed for celebrity during the Depression-wracked Midwest in the early 1930s. Their larcenous, often murderous, exploits were celebrated (if that's the word) in the 1967 movie "Bonnie and Clyde," with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as the infamous couple.
Six years ago, author Ivan Menchell, composer Frank Wildhorn and lyricist Don Black combined to revive the story with the musical version of the bandits, "Bonnie & Clyde," currently on stage at the Costa Mesa Playhouse under the direction of David A. Blair. It is, to be sure, a different take on the legend.
In this rendition, the pair never really swing into lawless action until after intermission. The first act consists of their meeting, their romance and Clyde's violent escape from incarceration. All the bank robbing, killing and store holdups occur in the second act.
Hopefully, Michael J. Pollard never gets to see this show. His memorable movie character, C.W. Moss, never appears in this version, although he reportedly was included in the 2009 premiere but later excised.
As for the final scene, audiences expecting something akin to a rat-a-tat conclusion will be disappointed. Minor characters appear for their curtain calls before we realize the show has ended. And Beatty's line "I'm not much of a lover boy" certainly isn't employed here. In the Costa Mesa production, the bandits steam up the stage with their fervent passion./p>
The casting is impressive. Lance Smith is a tremendously effective Clyde, his seething intensity commanding the stage, along with his powerful voice. It's a difficult role to pull off successfully, but Smith nails it solidly.
As Bonnie, Ashley Arlene Nelson projects a youthful sensuality triggered both by boredom in her West Dallas environs and Clyde's eternal overtures. Her voice, especially in the prophetic solo "Dyin' Ain't So Bad," is excellent.
Garret Chandler as Clyde's brother Buck is a tall, hunky figure, almost comical in nature, who plays a great second fiddle. But it's the slim, tiny Elizabeth Suzanne as his religious zealot of a wife who truly steals the show with her frantic appeals to the almighty and superlative vocal presence, best illustrated in her solo, "That's What You Call a Dream."
Memorable supporting achievements include Stephanie Thomas' tearful turn as Bonnie's anxious mother, Wayne Mayberry's determination as the local sheriff and Eric T. Anderson's performance as the conflicted deputy who tracks the bandits but carries a big torch for Bonnie.
Daniel Berlin conveys the mood of the community as the corpulent preacher leading the hymn-singing scenes. Maddy Nickless and DJ Price impress as the younger versions of Bonnie and Clyde, and Michael Dale Brown (the playhouse president recruited late in rehearsal) doubles effectively as Clyde's father and a state police officer.
Backstage, pianist Taylor Stephenson conducts a five-piece band that musically identifies the period. The uncredited set design expands the Costa Mesa stage and fills a score of performance requirements, including a mock automobile built by Marcus Pizzuti.
Director Blair has taken on a difficult challenge – a large cast telling a true story embellished by a musical score – and made it immensely palatable, even if its ending is somewhat suspicious. It's a thrill ride through an anxious historical period at the Costa Mesa Playhouse.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.
If You Go
What: "Bonnie & Clyde"
Where: Costa Mesa Playhouse, 611 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through March 8
Cost: $18 to $20
Information: (949) 650-5269 or http://www.costamesaplayhouse.com