Taking a closer look at Madison theater
Jul 22, 2014
04:09 PMStage Write
You Will Remember Their Names
MUSIC THEATRE OF MADISON
It's like they were made for each other: Brian Shutters and Fiorella Fernandez in MTM's 'Bonnie & Clyde'
It’s interesting to consider the ways Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, those flashy gangsters who captured the nation’s attention and imagination for a few brief years at the front end of the Great Depression, were another step on the evolutionary curve of our fascination with celebrity culture. Today, we lionize people ‘cause they’re beautiful and/or willing to publically humiliate themselves (see: Kardashian, Kim) Back then, Bonnie and Clyde gained notoriety by flouting the law with flair. So what if there was a body count attached? They’re on the front page!
In Music Theatre of Madison’s entertaining production of Bonnie & Clyde (playing through this weekend in the Bartell’s Drury Stage), we’re given a great picture of why the pair was so arresting. Fiorella Fernandez and Brian Shutters have a great and natural onstage and vocal chemistry, and neither is remotely afraid to let their strong voices soar and their fiery emotions flare during arguments—as a couple, they’re totally convincing. It’s great to hear Fernandez’s pretty voice given more rein that she got in the smaller role she played in CTM’s Fiddler on the Roof last spring. Shutters, meanwhile, is a live wire almost every minute he’s on stage, bouncing and whooping with confidence and animal magnetism.
We first meet these two not as adults, but as children, played with impressive aplomb by a young Sophia Bavishi and an even younger Julian Engle. She clutches copies of Life and wants to grow up to be movie starlet Clara Bow; he wants to emulate the murderous outlaw Billy the Kid. We can see it’s going to end badly, but Clyde never quite can, even when adult Bonnie’s penning poems about adult Clyde’s eventual bloody demise.
The plot places Bonnie and Clyde’s relationship alongside the one between Clyde’s more vanilla brother, Buck (a game Cody Luck) and his devout and headstrong wife Blanche (Elizabeth Snellings), who’s straining to keep Buck out of his bro’s deadly orbit.
Composer Frank Wildhorn’s songbook is kinda all over the place, veering from country jams to gospel revivals and romantic duets. The show peaks when it pairs Fernandez and Snellings, its two powerhouse female vocalists, on the number “You Love Who You Love,” a song that finds Bonnie and Blanche coming face to face with the doom their hearts have chosen for them.
Meghan Randolph, MTM’s artistic director, is drawn to underappreciated shows that come with a few flaws attached, and Wildhorn’s gangster opus, a show that bombed out on Broadway, definitely qualifies. A romantic subplot involving a local lawman who pines for Bonnie is basically dead on arrival, despite Joel Roberts’s sweet and earnest efforts to infuse it with emotional energy. We know from the get-go that there’s no romantic redemption or happy ending in store for her—try a bullet-riddled ambush instead—so it’s hard to invest in thoughts of what might have been.
In last Saturday’s show, Christopher Younggren’s Preacher, the show’s stand-in for choosing faith in God over criminal activity in the face of poverty and depression, had a little difficulty with his ear-mic—in his first number, the raucous gospel-fest of “God’s Arms Are Always Open” he sang so loudly he ignited some feedback In his two subsequent numbers, he seemed to overcompensate, singing so softly it was challenging to hear him.
Even with a few small rough edges, MTM’s production has no trouble charming. Fueled by the powerful chemistry of Fernandez and Shutters, it shows us a touching, human side to a duo that history only remembers as headlines.