Thursday, April 26, 2012

CD REVIEW: Bonnie and Clyde

I have found over the years that I either love the music of Frank Wildhorn or I hate it.  There seems to be no in between.  I love The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Civil War.  I do not like Dracula or Wonderland, and I really think the best parts of Jekyll and Hyde were left behind on the concept recording.  I know I am not alone in recognizing how polarizing his scores can be (and let's face it, the productions of his shows and his choice in lyricists probably have a lot to do with it).  Still, I can, in clear conscience, say that I go to each of his shows with an open mind.  After all, just months after being mentally traumatized by Wonderland, I went into his next show with high hopes.  And I was not disappointed, nor were most of us in the blogosphere, who were singing the praises of Bonnie and Clyde from the first preview.  Even naysayers found the score to be quite good.  History tells us now that the critics just can't cut Wildhorn a break.  Imagine how they'd have been had he done more than provide the tunes!  Cut to a few days after the show closed.  The cast assembles to record the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Bonnie and Clyde, to be distributed by a new label, Broadway Records.  That recording is the subject of today's review.

Grade: A+

Title: Bonnie and Clyde
Artist: Original Broadway Cast Recording
Label: Broadway Records
Number: BR-CD00112
Format: Single CD
Case: Single Jewel Case.
Booklet: Full color production photos and sepia toned historic photos of Bonnie and Clyde; complete synopsis by Ivan Menchell, full lyrics; liner notes by Frank Wildhorn, Don Black, John McDaniel and Corey Brunish.


5.  To support the quality recording of ALL Broadway scores. 

If all of the future recordings produced by new label Broadway Records are this good, they need our support.  First and foremost, fans of Broadway need to get behind any effort to preserve these pieces of history, regardless of whether or not the show itself is a hit.  Like it or not, the works of Frank Wildhorn and his various collaborators represent an important voice in American musical theatre in the late 20th and early 21st century.  Flop or hit, the man continues to challenge himself and Broadway with show after show.  Only time will tell exactly where in the pantheon of composers he will end up.  The recording of all of his scores - as well as dozens of past and future writers - is vital in keeping the memory of his shows alive.  And I am pretty certain that Bonnie and Clyde in particular will prove to have legs far beyond its sadly short run in New York. 

4.  The superb quality of the booklet.

This CD comes with an impressive 30 page, full-color booklet that really preserves so much more than just the lyrics of the show (design and layout by Van Dean).  From the sensual show logo on the cover to the touching close up of Bonnie and Clyde's final moments on the back, the entire booklet is top quality.  Included are the complete lyrics and messages from the composer (Frank Wildhorn), lyricist (Don Black), musical director (John McDaniel) and one of the producers (Corey Brunish), as well as a thoughtful synopsis by the book writer, Ivan Menchell.  Fans of the show (and those who unfortunately missed it) will be thrilled by the dozens of color production photos by Nathan Johnson and additional photos by Aaron Rhyne, including several never published before.  History buffs will also appreciate the historic photos of the real Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, as well as a full reprint of Ms. Parker's 1934 poem, "The Trail's End: The Story of Bonnie and Clyde."  As there was not a souvenir program created for the Broadway run, this CD booklet becomes a de facto keepsake.

3.  The preservation of the fully orchestrated score, plus a bonus track.

John McDaniel's orchestrations played by the 10 member band of musicians sounds like double that number, so lush is the quality of the recording.  Despite the small number of players, they play a full array of instruments from acoustic and electric guitar to piano and just one synthesizer, and a violin and several woodwind instruments, a lot of musical ground is covered here.  The attention to time period detail and accuracy of the early 20th Century Texas/American sound and style is evident from the inclusion of such unique instruments as a mandolin and dobro, as well as specific uses of the clarinet and fiddle to instantly evoke music of a bygone era.  Whether the accompaniment calls for a simple tack-piano, or a  full on rockabilly jam, the entire recording is notable for the even and superb sound quality of the musicians.  There is also a bonus track: "This Never Happened Before," a song cut on the show's journey to Broadway.  A lovely ballad on its own, it is sung in duet by Jeremy Jordan and Laura Osnes, and accompanied only by the piano, played by the composer himself, Frank Wildhorn.

2.  The wonderfully even score with so many terrific stand out numbers.

I loved the show when I saw it, and I was completely taken by the score at the time.  Of course, over time, the memory fades, especially when you can't see the show when it isn't there, and all that is left are some snippets of promo versions on YouTube and the show's website.  But even after one listens to this cast recording, the memories came flooding back like I had just seen the show yesterday.  And subsequent listening has afforded me the opportunity to realize just how well most of the score is put together.  I love that the same tones and rhythms are used for certain characters over and over.  Wildhorn's use of motifs is alternately obvious and subliminal.  I love the slow country twang of the numbers sung by Blanche, the heart racing rockabilly of Clyde's solos, the slow, sensual blues sound used for Bonnie's solo numbers, the fast-paced barn-stompers for the "exciting" moments and their lives together, and the syncopated slow waltz that accompanies their love songs.  I love how even within those styles, the character motifs insinuate themselves into each song.

For me, there are a number of standout songs.  I love Louis Hobson's plea for Bonnie's affections in "You Can Do Better Than Him" as well as the cocky bravado of Clyde, who joins Hobson's Ted in the final verses of the song.  The irony and hypocrisy of "God's Arms Are Always Open" come shining through with Michael Lanning's intense Holy-roller preacher at the lead and the company providing a desperately feverish back up of religious fervor.  That same anger and irony comes blasting through on the rock-tinged "Made in America," also sung by Lanning and company.  The younger versions of Bonnie (Kelsey Fowler) and Clyde (Talon Ackerman) provide an interesting context in "Picture Show," a song about the all-American need for fame and a legacy of celebrity. The comic relief of "You're Goin' Back to Jail" is vivid and welcome as performed by Blanche, Buck and the ladies at the beauty parlor.  And the sorrowful resignation of "Dyin' Ain't So Bad" brings a tear to the eye just by listening to it.

1.  The fantastic performances by the leads and principal supporting cast.

While the majority of the score is sung by the title players, the other two members of "The Barrow Gang" get their chance to shine here, too.  As Buck, the dim, if well-intentioned brother of Clyde, Claybourne Elder played the lost and dutiful poor soul to perfection.  That same loyalty to his brother Clyde comes through on the recording in the exhilarating duet "When I Drive."  And the lovely and dynamic performance of Melissa van der Schyff as Blanche, Buck's long-suffering, religious wife is well-represented here with  "You're Going Back to Jail," a comedic number, the touching "That's What You Call a Dream," and in beautiful duet "You Love Who You Love."  Let me state again that her performance was Tony-worthy.  I hope she is not forgotten.

What more can I say about the two leads of the show, Laura Osnes and Jeremy Jordan, than they are both utter perfection?  The best news is that their thrilling, dangerous performances come shining through on this recording. Separately, they shine, showing some serious acting chops along with dramatic singing voices.  Mr. Jordan's metamorphosis from small time crook to blood thirsty murderer is crystal clear and brilliantly rendered in "Raise a Little Hell," a song which is essentially an epic soliloquy of near Shakespearean proportions.  What an amazing acting and singing performance!  And in what I think is the show's best number, and one of the best songs of the entire season, Ms. Osnes' sexually charged, sensual performance of "How 'Bout a Dance?" is surely the highlight of the disc.  Alternately brave, sad, lonely and self-assured, the song allows the actress to show us a complicated woman that we care about, no matter what her later crimes are.  Of course, given the complexity of the chemistry between Bonnie and Clyde, it speaks volumes for both the actors and the score, that it is when they are together that listeners will feel the most emotional impact.  In the opening numbers "Picture Show" and "This World Will Remember Us," their characters' greed and lust for fame wrapped up in an all-American Texas twang is apparent, even without a visual.  The rousing "The World Will Remember Us" ends the first act and the pair tear through the number with a frightening sense of purpose and menacing glee. The entire show comes down to the penultimate moment when the pair reflects on their lives together and realize that their fate is sealed.  The stunning "Dyin' Ain't So Bad" is a quiet, emotional ballad, surprising in that you find yourself not only caring about two mass murdering bandits, but even hoping that somehow they will live to see another day.

That all of this comes through on a cast recording says a lot for the score and for the actors performing it.  What a shame that the critics couldn't see or hear that when they reviewed the show.  The release of this recording reminds me that Bonnie and Clyde really was one of the best shows of the season.  Boy, am I glad this got such excellent treatment.

Read my review of the entire show HERE.

(CD Cover from The Broadway Records release of Bonnie and Clyde; production photos by Nathan Johnson; photo of Frank Wildhorn and historic photos from Getty Images)

Full disclosure statement:  I received a complimentary copy of this cast recording from Broadway Records, who approached me, with the objective of writing a review of the recording.  It was very clear, for both myself and the production company, at all times, that I was under no obligation to write a positive review.  The above opinions are mine alone.

@jkstheatrescene (Twitter); (email); Comment below (Blogger)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Jeff, for a most beautifully written review. I am thrilled that the music of this show will live on for the people out there who loved the show, the music, and now this album.
    Debbie Moyer
    (Jeremy's Mom)


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