Boy meets girl on a deserted road in Depression-era West Dallas, and sooner than you can say “Warren Beatty,” they’re rolling in the hay — or rather, the dust. Seeing as how his name is Clyde and hers is Bonnie, the eventual outcome is no surprise here, and indeed the dead-end story trajectory grows burdensome, as does the fact that unschooled white-trash gunslingers generally aren’t loquacious enough to steal the spotlight. For all that, three exciting performances and a better-than-usual score from Frank Wildhorn combine to make this an arresting if problematic new musical.
If Wildhorn (“Jekyll and Hyde,” “Wonderland”) has heretofore been seen on Broadway as a pop-music interloper, “Bonnie and Clyde” should finally lay the notion to rest. The music more or less fits the material; there’s a lot of country twang and some extraneous matter, but the score has plenty to offer. Two of the songs are especially pleasing, a duet for the Barrow women called “You Love Who You Love,” and Bonnie’s big ballad (“Dyin’ ain’t so bad, not if you both go together”).
Shooting up the stage as Clyde is budding star-to-be Jeremy Jordan, who made a splash in September in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of “Newsies”; he comes out looking just as good here. Laura Osnes, who won a reality-show competition for the lead in the 2007 revival of “Grease” and recently played Hope in Roundabout’s “Anything Goes,” is especially winning as the poetry-writing Bonnie. (The authors decide that she wants to be not a gunslinger’s moll but a movie star, allowing them to write songs about Clara Bow — and to intercut projections of Bow and Al Capone.) Also giving a standout performance is Melissa van der Schyff, singing and acting commandingly as Clyde’s sister-in-law Blanche.
Nevertheless, there’s something ironic about the way Bonnie and Clyde here opine that the world will remember them, when in fact the performers, strong as they are here, are unlikely to erase the memory of Beatty and Faye Dunaway in Arthur Penn’s 1967 film classic. The element of sexual dysfunction in that version is absent here (although much is made of teenage Clyde having been brutalized in prison), as is a comparable level of dramaturgy: The lyrics by Don Black (whose credits include “Born Free” and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical version of “Sunset Blvd.”) are merely functional and often peppered with cliches. TV scribe Ivan Menchell’s book also has its weaknesses; of the 19 actors in the cast, only five of them are given more than stick figures to play.
Helmer Jeff Calhoun (“Newsies”) does a creative job with the material, although he seems somewhat hemmed in by a deck consisting of numerous skewed platforms. Set by Tobin Ost (also a “Newsies” collaborator) makes for interesting visuals but crimps the staging and leaves no room for choreography.
Show has no fewer than 35 producers and associate producers listed above the title, which might not be a record but is indicative of tough fundraising. Among the budget items: a prodigious amount of spurting stage blood.