Bonnie & Clyde (Original West End Cast Recording) | Review
Monday, August 7, 2023
This recording is both impressive and alarming in that it humanises two mass murderers
There’s been great demand for a West End cast recording of this show, winner of the 2023 WhatsOnStage Award for Best New Musical. The tale of these two real-life outlaws was first seen on Broadway in 2011 with a cast recording the year after – featuring Jeremy Jordan and Laura Osnes – but the show took more than a decade to reach London. Now we have a welcome document of a vibrant cast who prove a fair match for their Broadway predecessors.
The score itself is a memorable mix of Americana and heartfelt ballads, suggestive enough of the story’s 1930s period while also feeling contemporary with its driving rock, belting Country songs and pop numbers
There are two outstanding powerhouse performances from Frances Mayli McCann and Jordan Luke Gage as the title couple. Gage has a bright and ringing top register, singing with great precision and sustained power; there’s just enough darkness with which he colours certain notes, while still sounding like the young man that Clyde is (he died at 25).
McCann likewise knows how to strike that delicate balance between strength and sensitivity; sample ‘How ’Bout a Dance?’ for her seductive vocals, as she reveals to Clyde her ambition of becoming a singer-actress – she sings powerfully on the words that need it, but caresses the more tender lyrics, like the word ‘heart’ that ends the song. The balance between brawn and heart is one this show must strike; it is, after all, about a couple who murdered 13 people, and while there’s a danger of glorifying their crimes, it’s a theatrical necessity to ensure the leads aren’t just evil but human, too.
Indeed, the joy of this recording is that it’s not just belting high notes and violence. There’s plenty of humour too; you can hear Jodie Steele, Lauren Jones, Julie Yammanee and Chloe Saunders revelling in the comedy of ‘You’re Goin’ Back to Jail’, in which these religious women tell Buck, Clyde’s brother (George Maguire), to turn himself in. Hyperbole is hyper here – as it should be – and it’s irresistible.
The score itself is a memorable mix of Americana and heartfelt ballads, suggestive enough of the story’s 1930s period while also feeling contemporary with its driving rock, belting Country songs and pop numbers.
I have three song highlights, the top being Act Two’s ‘Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad’. With a beautifully controlled vibrato, McCann sounds effortless, and the purity of her upper register makes this song extremely affecting. Similar credit must go to Steele for the welcome softness she brings to ‘That’s What You Call a Dream’, in which Blanche refuses to join her criminal lover on the road. But for a dose of masculine aggression, sample Gage’s jailbreak song ‘Raise a Little Hell’, particularly admirable for his suggestive note‑slides.
I’m pleased the recording retains some of Ivan Menchell’s skilful (and eminently quotable) book scene lines that so aptly set up the songs, which land more strongly for the run-up. Credit, too, to music director Nick Barstow for so tenderly controlling the pauses and ritardandi in the ballads; singers and band alike, this is a highly musical performance, breathing where it needs to and underlining just the right moments.
This recording is both impressive and alarming in that it manages to humanise two mass murderers. It would be criminal to miss it.
Frank Wildhorn music
Don Black lyrics
Ivan Menchell book
Cast Frances Mayli McCann, Jordan Luke Gage, George Maguire, Jodie Steele, Cleve September, Dom Hartley-Harris, Michael Cortez, Kit Esuruoso, Alexander Evans, Sydnie Hocknell, Lauren Jones, Charlie McCullagh, Chloe Saunders, Robbie Scotcher, Barney Wilkinson, Pippa Winslow, Julie Yammanee
Arrangements/orchestrations John McDaniel (and Jen Green)
Additional incidental music/underscoring Katy Richardson, Nick Barstow
Musical supervision Katy Richardson
Band / Nick Barstow (and Honor Halford Macleod)