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Musical 'Bonnie & Clyde' worth checking out

Published: Monday, Jan. 20 2014 4:34 p.m. MST

“BONNIE AND CLYDE,” Utah Repertory Theater Company, Lehi Arts Center, 685 N. Center St., Lehi, through Feb. 1, with performances Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and matinees at 2 p.m. (utahrep.org/tickets)

It is not very often that theater-goers see regional premieres of Broadway works on a semiprofessional level. So when it happens, it's always worth checking out.

Utah Repertory Theater Company, one of the newer theater groups, just opened its production, a regional premiere, of "Bonnie and Clyde" — a musical about the infamous depression-era duo known for robbing banks and killing a few people (including police officers) along the way.

With music by Frank Wildhorn ("Jekyll and Hyde," "The Civil War") the musical opened on Broadway in 2011. Though it managed to garner some Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk and even two Tony nominations, it closed a scant four weeks after opening.

Though the musical has some memorable moments and songs, it's easy to see why it just didn't take off.

Now for the good stuff.

For starters, bravo to Utah Rep for using live musicians and it makes all the difference. The small ensemble, directed by Anjanette Mickelsen sounded pretty good, for the most part, and live music is the only way for an actor to really be in the moment.

Madeline Weinberger plays Bonnie, a good student who dropped out of high school, ended up waitressing, dreamt of being a star and met a man named Clyde (played by Johnny Hebda) — a man with a knack for breaking the law.

Weinberger does a good job of belting out Wildhorn's big score and she's even better in the softer, reflective numbers like “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad.”

Other standouts in the cast are Michelle Moore, who plays Blanche (Clyde’s sister-in-law), and Christopher Bradford, who delivers a rousing number as the preacher. Dallin Major is wonderful as a police officer who has feelings for Bonnie, and Nancy Susan Cannon put together some great period costumes.

Now for a few things that don't work.

The musical is too long. Clocking in at close to a three-hour evening, the material just isn't strong enough for that kind of time commitment.

That is not the fault of Utah Rep, but more so the creators of the show who just can't cut material they've languished over.

Adam Cannon's direction keeps the showing moving along fairly quickly, though many of the set changes are clunky and distracting. That could likely work itself out as the run of the show continues. Likewise, the sound problems Friday night with mics frequently cutting in and out should hopefully be addressed before the next show.

Wildhorn's project is ambitious. If one Googles Bonnie and Clyde, he or she will find a wealth of info, tidbits and interesting anecdotes. It's as if Wildhorn felt he needed to include them all.

And in a day and age when shootings seem to make the news far more often than anyone would like, the flashbacks or symbolic representation of Clyde as a gun-wielding kid are a bit unsettling, though it’s uncertain if that is a director choice or in the script.

Again, it is always worth seeing premieres and Utah Rep delivers a pretty solid show and is working hard to bring some lesser-known musicals to the valley.

Erica Hansen was the theater editor as Deseret News for more than three years. The original host of radio program Showtune Saturday Night, Erica is also an area performer.

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