Musical 'Bonnie & Clyde' tells electrifying story of 'first celebrity outlaw couple'

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 8 2014 2:15 p.m. MST

LEHI — At the height of the Great Depression, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow went from small-town nobodies to fearless outlaws and law enforcement’s worst nightmares. Their story of love, adventure and crime captivated an entire country.

And Bonnie and Clyde became American folk heroes.

Utah Repertory Theater Company stages “Bonnie & Clyde,” the Utah premiere of the Broadway musical, Jan. 17-Feb. 1 at the Lehi Arts Center.

“There is a lot of misunderstanding about Bonnie and Clyde,” says director Adam Cannon. “They were not psychotic killers like those you might see on ‘Criminal Minds’ and ‘Law & Order.’ They were really just young, naive people trying to escape horrible situations. Plus, I don’t believe audiences know that to people in their day, Bonnie and Clyde were often considered heroes for fighting against ‘the man.’ They became the country’s first celebrity outlaw couple.”

The score to “Bonnie & Clyde,” which combines rockabilly and gospel-style music, was written by the Tony-nominated Frank Wildhorn, whose credits include “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” “The Civil War” and “Jekyl & Hyde.”

Those familiar with other Wildhorn musicals will recognize elements “Bonnie & Clyde” share with his previous shows, “but it’s not just a retread,” Cannon says. “The music is quite contemporary while involving the subject matter of a bygone era. Plus, there’s a passion and a message to the music. It also helps to identify the characters and relates their inner struggles.”

“Bonnie & Clyde” earned two Tony Award nominations in 2012, including best score. The director wants to show “the struggle Bonnie and Clyde had between what they both wanted — fame and fortune — and the different means they wanted to use to get there.”

Members of Utah Rep’s production team had the unique opportunity to meet with Wildhorn prior to his October “Wildhorn & Friends” concert at BYU. Cannon and the two lead actors — Johnny Hebda, who plays Clyde, and Madeline Weinberger, who plays Bonnie — received firsthand advice from the composer, who answered questions about the musical.

“It was great to meet this Broadway legend in person,” says Hebda, Utah Rep founder and executive producer. “Frank took time to talk about the characters and his take on the story of ‘Bonnie & Clyde.’ I could feel his passion as he spoke of the show, and I saw his eyes light up with excitement that we would be premiering his latest work here in Utah.”

“Frank explained that Bonnie and Clyde’s story was something that we all can relate to,” Weinberger says. “Bonnie had dreams of her own and wanted to move away, and she ambitiously wanted to make those things happen. She had the idea of being so in love with someone that she’d rather live a short life with that person than a long one without. They were madly in love with each other.”

The original Broadway production included two Utahns in lead roles. Springville, Utah, native Claybourne Elder created the role of Clyde’s brother, Buck Barrow, and Talon Ackerman of Salt Lake City played Young Clyde.

If you go:

What: Utah Repertory Theater Company presents the Utah premiere of “Bonnie & Clyde”

Where: Lehi Arts Center, 685 N. Center St. in Lehi

When: Jan. 17-Feb. 1 on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays at 7:30 p.m. with 2 p.m. Saturday matinees, Jan. 25 and Feb. 1

How much: $15-$18, with the Thursday, Jan. 23, a “pay what you may” performance, where patrons may purchase tickets beginning at $1

Tickets: UtahRep.org/tickets

Blair Howell is a volunteer for the nonprofit Utah Repertory Theater Company.

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