Bonnie & Clyde

Southampton Musical Society  The Point, Eastleigh Mark Ponsford 5 October 2023

Frank Wildhorn’s musical telling (with lyrics by Don Black) of this darkly compelling tale premiered in 2009, eventually making its Broadway bow in 2011 to a mixed critical response, closing after just 36 regular performances. The show’s Original Cast Recording ensured that the score lived on, and the intervening years have seen – as with Sondheim’s short-lived 1964 musical Anyone Can Whistle, committed to disc after an even shorter run – an ever-increasing fanbase. There’s been a particular surge of interest in England, where a workshop presentation in 2017 was followed by a full West End concert performance in 2022, starring Jeremy Jordan, the original Clyde Barrow from the Broadway production. A subsequent fully-staged production of the show opened at the Arts Theatre in April 2022, and reopened at the Garrick Theatre in March of this year, where it ran through to the 20th of May. Next February will see the start of a new UK Tour – proving that this dramatic true tale of the two notorious anti-heroes continues to resonate strongly with today’s audiences. All the more fortunate for us, then, that Southampton Musical Society are currently serving up an impressive production right on our local doorstep, and I’d ask anyone in search of a piece of compelling Musical Theatre – not to say Musical Drama – to hasten to The Point, where the show is running through to Saturday.

Played out on a simple abstract set, Rory Blincow’s production has a smooth, almost filmic feel to it, as one scene dissolves neatly into the next, an effect further enhanced by some wonderfully effective lighting and projection work. He has also (wisely, in my personal opinion) elected not to utilise the show’s traditional opening image (one of the most blatant spoilers ever, for those unfamiliar with the story – the inference is now rather more subtly conveyed), along with a gratuitous ‘bath’ scene in the second act, frequently a cue for unwanted giggles of titillation from the audience – exactly what is not needed at that moment in the show. It’s a powerful tale, and gathers steam as it spirals, inevitably, out of control. The notion of one moment triggering (literally, in this case) an escalating sequence of dramatic tension is a ripe and compelling one – think Sweeney Todd, or even (and yes, I’m being serious) the movie Thelma And Louise – but the story of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow is imbued with its own singular darkness, and to musicalize it, rather than romanticizing the experience, turns it into a deeply satisfying and affecting one. Gem Tunley’s Musical Direction is superb, as are the 8 musicians in her Band, whose collective playing of the score combines the immediacy of contemporary Musical Theatre with lovely arrangements evocative of the 1930s, the period in which the show is set.

Was Clyde Barrow an instigator or a victim? This is a point that could be endlessly debated, and even after seeing the show you might find yourself pondering on it. Harry Taylor, who has emerged as one of the area’s outstanding young performers, offers a complex take on the role, and ensures that we live every one of his facets right along with him. He’s a wild card from the outset, but his world is visibly rocked when he encounters Megan Jones’ Bonnie Parker, and it’s easy to see why. Megan, making a simply stunning debut with SMS, is a completely beguiling new presence on the local Theatre scene – she acts with an instinctive sense of the period, and her vocals are thrilling. She and Harry are well-matched onstage, and are given strong support from their fellow players. Jim Smith (what a sequence of amazing work he’s given us over the past few years) continues to deliver, with a strong and effective performance as Buck, Clyde’s brother. He, along with Angharad Morgan as Blanche, his wife, provides movingly and convincingly what is arguably the most openly emotional moment in the show.

Among a strong supporting cast, there’s a lovely performance from Liam Baker as Ted Hinton, whose attachment to the case extends poignantly beyond the mere professional; and newcomer, Kenny Adegbola, serves up some terrific vocals as the Preacher. Jenni Connelly brings some heartfelt care and emotion to the role of Bonnie’s Mother, Emma; and as Clyde’s parents, both Andrew Knight and Beth Bailey bring added dramatic strength to the piece.

An involved and attentive audience responded at the curtain call with some deafening whoops and cheers. There are three performances remaining, and it’s a show worth seeing and supporting. To quote the tag line for the upcoming tour of Hamilton, ‘Don’t Throw Away Your Shot’.