Bonnie and Clyde (touring) ★★★★★

It took the West End by storm, and now the award-winning Bonnie and Clyde are raising a little Hell on a tour of the UK and Ireland.

Frank Wildhorn‘s bold musical take on the infamous criminal sweethearts, Bonnie and Clyde, stole many hearts during its hit West End run. Now recast and beginning its first UK tour, the question is will this 2009-penned musical create the same buzz out on the road? The answer is a resounding Hell Yes! 

Beginning at the end, the show opens with the titular young outlaws dead in their car, shot by a hail of 167 bullets, having killed 14 people during their crime spree. Jumping back, the dirt-poor origins of both growing up in the middle of nowhere, during the American Depression, are revealed. Bonnie nurtures hopes of a life in the movies as the new Clara Bow, while the young Clyde – who has already fallen foul of the law – imagines his future as a famed criminal like Billy the Kid or Al Capone. Their paths cross when Clyde and his brother Buck have escaped from jail and are on the run. Together, their fame-obsessed dreams lead them into a life of crime with the pair becoming folk heroes across America in the process.

Images by Richard Davenport

Some may find the musical’s “glamorising” of two real-life murderers problematic but Bonnie & Clyde is not so different from popular musicals such as Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Evita or Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins which put controversial figures at the centre of their work.

What is beyond dispute is how accomplished the show’s score is. Musically, Wildhorn has crafted a modern classic that effortlessly fuses flavours of vaudeville, gospel, country and rock to create an irresistible soundtrack. And fortunately the touring cast are every bit equipped for the vocal challenges that the composer sets them. Whether a toe-tapping rag, a heart-felt ballad, a soaring spiritual prayer or a pulsating rock number, there is not a weak voice in this superb cast. 

As it happens, the performance The Recs saw coincided with the debut performance of the Alternate Clyde Barrow, Nate Landskroner. What a stunning leading man. He naturally exudes the seductive swagger of Clyde, while underscoring that with the darkness that will lead him to become a serial killer. His powerful singing voice displays a spectrum of colours and tones to ensure his character is imbued with believable dimensions. An outstanding first appearance. 

Katie Tonkinson successfully conveys the transition from Bonnie’s relatively star-struck innocence into the sassy embodiment of ravishing red-headed gangster’s moll. There’s such a clean quality to her voice that particularly shines in Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad.  

Even though the role of The Preacher is a supporting one, the velvety, soulful stylings of former The Voice contestant, Jaz Ellington, turns the rather sedate stalls of the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre into a fevered revivalist congregation with a beguiling God’s Arms Are Always Open

While the cast, without exception, are uniformly excellent, Catherine Tyldesley is a revelation. Best known for television roles such as Eva Price on Coronation Street and Kate Woods in The Good Ship Murder as well as partnering Johannes Radebe on Series 17 of Strictly Come Dancing, rather incredibly Bonnie and Clyde is Tyldesley’s musical theatre debut. Playing Blanche Barrow, the religious wife of Clyde’s brother 
Buck, she skilfully navigates the seemingly contradictory pulls of her role. As the show’s comic relief, she lands Ivan Menchell’s bitchy, sarcastic zingers with comedy aplomb. But it’s as the musical’s moral compass that Tylesdley really hits home. Devoted to her ne’er-do-well husband, there’s an inexorable poignancy to her character’s slow realisation that a happy ending will not be on the cards matched with her unbreakable resilience not to give up on the man she loves. It is a performance filled with detail, nuance and understated power. Whether it is in her immaculate harmonies with Katie Tonkinson on You Love Who You Love or the devastating heartbreak of That’s What You Call a Dream, Tyldesley’s vocals are nothing short of exquisite. Nineteen years after graduating from the Birmingham School of Acting, a musical theatre star is born! 

 Wildhorn’s Bonnie and Clyde seems to carry something in its DNA of  those great, darker musicals like Parade or Carousel, or even West Side Story. In exposing the chaotic consequences of when the much-vaunted American Dream fails, this musical manages to feel both classic and timely at the same time. 

With a stellar cast, stand-out performances and compelling score, you absolutely shouldn’t miss the chance to raise a little hell when Bonnie & Clyde drive into your town. 

They Shoot…and oh that Score! ★★★★★ 5 stars

Bonnie and Clyde Tour Tickets

Bonnie and Clyde continue their UK and Ireland tour currently until October 2024

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