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Superb acting drives ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ musical

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Depression-era criminals Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker captured the public’s imagination when dramatic photographs appeared in newspapers while they continued to elude the law. Although not the first movie about the outlaw couple, Arthur Penn’s 1967 film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway catapulted the couple into even greater countercultural fame, and it remains a classic of American New Wave cinema.

In 2009, a musical about the folk heroes debuted in California, and it opened on Broadway two years later. Now it’s playing Albuquerque, in an ambitious Musical Theatre Southwest production directed by Brandon Price McDaniel.

Ivan Menchell, Don Black and Frank Wildhorn’s “Bonnie and Clyde” takes a considerably different approach to the story from Arthur Penn’s movie. For one thing, the musical chronicles the pair’s history from childhood forward. The central idea animating the couple is a wish for fame. The first musical number, “Picture Show,” has young Bonnie singing of her desire to be the next “It Girl,” sex symbol Clara Bow, while young Clyde sings of his desire to be the next Al Capone.

The central draw of this show is the excellent performances of its two leads, Jessica Quindlen and Tyler Gable, who play the adult Bonnie and Clyde. The talented pair successfully capture the youthful charm, reckless danger, and sexual adventurousness that have always appealed to the public where Bonnie and Clyde are concerned.

Clyde’s brother Buck and sister-in-law Blanche, as in the movie, are key figures but are significantly different psychologically. Colin Burdge breathes dramatic life into a more subdued Buck, while Adrianne Lytle beautifully renders Blanche, not as the hysterical neurotic we see in the movie but as a Christian beautician deeply in love with her husband.

With 23 actors and countless set changes this is an ambitious show for MTS. The set changes were a problem. At one point the car got caught on something and we had to watch stagehands attempt to extricate it while a scene commenced on the other side of the stage.

As a general rule, I recommend using actors for set changes, if possible, and choreographing set changes as part of the show.

Composer Wildhorn is quite talented, as he also demonstrated in MTS’ recent “Jekyll and Hyde.” Appropriate for a musical about depression era folk heroes, the music consists of traditional American forms nicely rendered by a six-piece orchestra.

“Bonnie and Clyde” is playing at Musical Theatre Southwest, 6320 Domingo Road NE, through Feb. 25. For reservations, go to musicaltheatresw.com or call 265-9119.

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