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‘Bonnie and Clyde’ Makes Folk Heroes of Killers: Jeremy Gerard

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"Angel Reapers"
The company of "Angel Reapers" in New York. The show, staged by Martha Clarke and written by Alfred Uhry ("Driving Miss Daisy"), will run through Dec. 11 at the Joyce Theater in Manhattan. Photographer: Rob Strong/Kornberg PR via Bloomberg

Dec. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker had little to recommend them as citizens worthy of a Broadway musical. They killed anyone who got in their way during a bank-robbing spree around the Midwest in the heart of the Great Depression.

We can’t all be Mary Poppins. Frank Wildhorn’s “Bonnie and Clyde,” which opened Thursday night on Broadway, has catchy songs, a fleshed out story and plenty of heart thanks to the snazzy direction by Jeff Calhoun and a design team that invokes the period in broad but astute strokes.

It also has a pair of stars in Jeremy Jordan (Clyde) and Laura Osnes (Bonnie). Avoid the temptation to revisit Arthur Penn’s 1967 movie with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, and you’ll have a fine time.

That’s high praise for Wildhorn (last season’s short-lived “Wonderland,” “Jekyll and Hyde”), whose predilection for generic-sounding pop tunes with a high dose of treacle hasn’t won him many fans among critics. While it falls into some of the same traps, “Bonnie and Clyde” is by far his best score.

Wildhorn and his collaborators -- book writer Ivan Menchell and lyricist Don Black -- smartly dispense with the film’s violent finale right off the bat: The lights go down, the air fills with smoke and the sound of machine-gun fire, and the curtains part revealing a shot up Ford and the bullet-riddled bodies of the murderous pair.

Doing Time

With that business out of the way, they can settle in to some conventional storytelling. How young Clyde was raising hell (and doing time) from boyhood and young Bonnie dreamed of being the next Clara Bow, the “It” girl.

People are losing their homes and even the banks are running out of cash. Clyde comes upon Bonnie in West Dallas and sweet talks her into running off with him as they begin life on the lam.

Three days after seeing it, I can’t recall a single tune from the show (a little lower on the volume might have helped me listen better). One line of Clyde’s, however, has stayed with me. When his sister-in-law urges him to turn himself in and finish his prison sentence, Clyde responds, “I am never going to be set free. Freedom is something I gotta steal.”

Unlikely Somebodies

Jordan, fresh from starring in the Broadway-bound “Newsies,” resembles Leonardo DiCaprio. His singing is strong and sure, but I liked his slouchy acting even better. He does a fine job of conveying Clyde’s transformation from goofy nobody to unlikely somebody. During one bank holdup, a trembling customer asks for his autograph, and he cheerfully obliges.

Osnes, who spends a good deal of the show in a slip, effectively belts the 11 o’clock number, “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad,” without making it memorable.

As Clyde’s helpful brother and reluctant sister-in-law, Claybourne Elder and Melissa Van Der Schyff offer powerful vocal and dramatic support.

There’s no dancing to speak of, which I suppose is indicative of the show’s seriousness of purpose. That’s also reflected in Tobin Ost’s settings, rough-hewn barn siding jazzed with Aaron Rhyne’s projections of sensationalist newspaper headlines and mug shots, all sympathetically lit by Michael Gilliam, often through a Dust Bowl haze. A pop romance about the American nightmare, “Bonnie and Clyde” is solidly entertaining.

At the Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: **1/2

‘Angel Reapers’

The stage of the Joyce Theater is bare but for a dozen wooden chairs, soon occupied by a gathering of primly dressed men and women. When they begin singing “’Tis a Gift to be Simple,” it’s almost impossible not to think of Martha Graham and “Appalachian Spring.”

“Angel Reapers” is the work of a different Martha, in this case the choreographer and director Martha Clarke, collaborating with playwright Alfred Uhry (“Driving Miss Daisy”). The story, such as it is in this 70-minute dance, concerns the 18th-century Shaker movement, with its odd mix of ecstatic mysticism and celibacy.

That familiar song devolves into foot-stomping and, eventually the dancers whirling like dervishes, stripping off their clothes and behaving in decidedly non-celibate fashion. As always with Clarke (“Vienna: Lusthaus”), the images are striking, even if we’re left pondering the meaning of it all.

Through Dec. 11 at the Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue near West 18th St. Information: +1-212-242-0800; http://www.joyce.org. Rating: **


What the Stars Mean:
****        Do Not Miss
***         Excellent
**          Good
*           So-So
(No stars)  Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Jeremy Gerard in New York at jgerard2@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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