The world of Bonnie and Clyde, with its dusty blood red romanticism, careened sideways into the Crete St Theatre in a sweaty, sex-infused haze of rockabilly and charm. The final show in Beenleigh Theatre Group’s 2019 season, with its powerful score by Frank Wildhorn has had an impact on critics, award season judges, and audiences alike.
With its stylised, unvarnished wooden design, tokenistic set pieces, and sparse lighting, the infamous characters are set loose to swagger and preen, letting their ill-fated story play out each night. The BTG production leaped up on stage with a bang, holding forth with all of the grit and garishness appropriate for this kind of wild west Robin-Hoodesque saga.
Between shows TheFourthWall’s Benjamin Tubb-Hearne was lucky enough to catch a ride in the iconic car with Lauren Conway and Connor Hawkins, Bonnie and Clyde respectively. While cruising across the Crete Street stage, they shared the goods about working on this unique piece of theatre.
Ben: Bonnie and Clyde lasted just four weeks on Broadway, having been in the show, why do you think that was?
Connor: I think it was more of a critics thing, wasn’t it? And maybe because there were no dance numbers?
Lauren: Yeah, I think it’s not what you would expect from a typical musical. Like when you go see a musical I think you’re like “lets have some jazz hands and a fun time’ and this is like ‘death’
B: It’s true – and even the small amount of dancing that you had – it’s very much a small vehicle thing.
C: Yeah a lot of small , I think maybe that puts a bad taste in people’s mouths.
B: I think as well, we did a lot of research when we did Jekyll and Hyde and that also didn’t do well either time it’s been on.
L: It could be a Wildhorn thing.
B: And you look at Wonderland and that lasted three or four weeks as well and that had plenty of dancing, so maybe it is about the composer.
L: I don’t know, I think the funny thing is that once it closes it gains a cult following.
B: Which actually leads really well into our next questions, Frank Wildhorn musicals usually get a pretty bad rap from the critics, but are usually revered by the performers themselves. Does this match your experience?
C: He definitely makes it entertaining, from a lead perspective. Like with a character like Jekyll, it’s “the character”, you know, you do that to prove a point and it’s really the same with Clyde. He really writes some fun stuff for the leads. Maybe not so much for the ensemble, but for the leads it’s a lot of fun.
L: And I think too he’s got an awesome way, I get “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad” which is just tear your heart out great. He writes so well for the emotion of the characters. He loves a good ballad.
B: And there must be some pressure there, especially considering this was really the role that shot Jeremy Jordan, and to a point, Laura Osnes to fame. Did you feel any of that carry through in the lead up to opening?
C: I wasn’t too nervous about it. I came in with pretty high expectations of myself – I wouldn’t have done this role if it didn’t give me a challenge. I also personally chose to do a lot of what Jeremy did vocally, which is completely different to the score. He adds a lot of embellishments, and goes up octaves. The score for Clyde is actually a lot different to what he sings.
L: It’s really low.
C: Some of it’s quite low, and a bit boring. Some of the melodies are quite repetitive so I can see why Jeremy did what he did. But I just sort of went for it. Like I said, if you can do it, why not go for it, prove a point.
B: Bonnie and Clyde were aged 23 and 25 when they died, not too dissimilar to your ages now.
L: Yeah I’m 22.
C: I’m 20.
L: Naw, you’ve got 5 years to go, you got this.
B: Was it easy to adapt to that live fast die young mentality?
L: I am such a homebody, but I do think that there’s a lot of that youth angsty stuff that you can definitely find in there.
C: I think it’s just a lot of fun to play. I think it’s easy, well I say easy but, you can just kind of go high energy and not worry so much about the nuance I guess with a lot of it.
L: There’s so many scenes that for me in particular, but for Clyde as well, where I get reprimanded by my mum, and then I go home and I get reprimanded by my real mum, and it’s just not that dissimilar to real life.
C: Yeah I think it was quite easy to slip into that. We all kind of want to be like that a little bit, I think.
B: Do you think that Bonnie and Clyde were right to do what they did? Do you think that if they were more cautious that they would have been as famous, or did they have to go out in a blaze of glory?
L: I think that they were definitely pushed to a breaking point.
C: It’s not the right path to go down, in any circumstances, but they grew up in really difficult times. I mean they’re still bad people, that’s one thing about this musical that doesn’t quite sit well with a lot of people …
L: It’s a bit glossed over, isn’t it.
C: It’s very much dramatised.
B: Especially the murders, they are not really explored too much in the show. It’s almost a cross fire that had to happen. We’re so invested in the title characters we don’t care about the bank teller. We know she shot first .. I’m not sure if that’s reflective of what really happened, I’m not sure how much fact checking went on.
L: There’s a lot that’s different to history ..
C: Not sure about the bank teller one. They didn’t really rob banks.
L: Well they tried to, but they were not good at it. They were so bad.
C: Yeah so there’s a lot of theatrical liberties taken. Not just with this, but in pop culture as well.
L: I think that was a choice too. They deliberately chose to make it about the relationship between Bonnie and Clyde and less about the crime spree. It was more about these people being in love and this was their job, almost.
C: It really draws on the old depression era, like this is the outcome of that. Which is a big message and the essence of the play.
B: So Bonnie and Clyde kind of garnered a reputation like the modern day Kardashians, they’re not really famous for anything, in the show there’s the whole autograph scene, which was so funny, and very well done. What do you think the appeal was in the early 1900’s. Why do you think they garnered that reputation?
L: I think because every was so, so poor. It was that time when there was Al Capone and Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Flloyd, and all of these massive criminals that were revered in the media. Everyone sort of saw them as a way to break out of the entrapments of poverty, I guess. So there was almost this “Yeah you go Bonnie and Clyde, you get those police!”
C: There was a whole sheltered lifestyle, not just in regards to poverty but religion and things like that. As soon as the people saw these figureheads leading the charge against the government and the police who were screwing the people over.
B: They do definitely have an American Robin Hood, like robbing from the rich and giving to themselves.
L: I read an article that was saying there was so much intrigue because they were robbing things but they were also going home and … you know. Doing their thang.
B: If you could steal another person’s song from the show, what song would you steal and why?
C: I think I would steal ‘God’s Arms Are Always Open’. The first one. It’s such a jam.
L: I would steal Blanche’s ‘That’s What You Call A Dream’ because it’s stunning.
C: Why would you steal another ballad?
L: I know I know, I really wanted to say ‘When I Drive” but that song just gets me where I live, you know?
B: So one of my favourite scenes in the show was the bathtub scene. There was something really natural and tender about your interactions in that scene, and it wasn’t Bonnie and Clyde showing off for the cameras, which was really nice for the audience. But my question is, Connor could you play the ukulele before the show, or did you learn it for the role?
C: I learnt it for the show. So I pretty much only know that song on the ukulele but I play guitar so I picked it up pretty quickly.
B: Did that add a level of pressure?
C: I don’t know, we had a while to think about it, I just took my time with it. I borrowed a ukulele and just played a little bit every now and then, so it wasn’t too bad.
B: As a show you were recently nominated for 10 awards. How does it feel to have this relatively unknown show get noticed?
C: It’s nice.
L: Yeah this is my favourite musical so I love that it’s been thrust into the spotlight a bit. I just want to shout out, ‘Yeah people, jam out in the car to it!’, because it’s so gorgeous.
C: Yeah it’s not what you’d expect. It’s bluesy, gospel, rockabilly, I love that stuff. I grew up with that stuff. My Dad’s coming tonight actually, and I just know that he’s going to love it. It’s got a lot of listenability, if that’s a word, and replayability.
B: Connor speaking of awards, you were recently nominated for best actor in a play and best actor in a musical. Does your approach differ if you’re doing a straight play, or you’re doing a musical?
L: That is a great question!
C: There’s a bit more to think about in a musical, I guess, cause you’re obviously singing and there’s more movement. But it’s hard to say off the top of my head. I think my processes for a play, I very much analyse everything. It’s not just my character, it’s the play as a whole. I think that translates differently into a play character. Acting wise I definitely delve more into my character in a play, it’s not as transcribed for you in a play because you’re basically singing your intentions in a musical.
B: Lauren you just choreographed another Wildhorn musical, Jekyll and Hyde. How did you approach and are there any similarities between the shows?
L: I actually didn’t know Jekyll and Hyde super well before I choreographed it, but I remember listening to the massive ensemble stuff, where you’re asking your cast to sing something really difficult, and then I come in and I’m like “alright, let’s have a boogie as well!” So I think musically this is quite dissimilar, it’s quite rockabilly and bluesy and pop in a way, whereas Jekyll and Hyde is almost legit.
B: Someone described your choreography of ‘Murder, Murder’ as almost a post modern Fosse.
L: Yes! Thank you for telling me that! That’s exactly what I was going for. I always try to approach it from the perspective of ‘what’s going on in the story’ and then we’ll go from there. Because if the movement doesn’t match and there’s a disconnect …
B: So just to put you on the spot, do you prefer choreographing, or acting?
L: I can’t .. I mean .. I don’t know if I can choose. I love both so much. I love embodying a character and being onstage, especially in this show, because Bonnie is a dream role. But I also love creating things and going through from where something is in your head to watching it happen.
B: Beenleigh is quite a hub for the next generation of performers at the moment, including the three younger version of yourselves in this show. If you could say anything to any aspiring young actor, what would it be, and how would you encourage them in a world where a lot of people are telling them that acting is going nowhere?
C: Don’t close any doors. I think, personally, it’s a bit silly, if you’re into creativity, even if you can’t sing for example, there are so many aspects to theatre, and the arts. Just don’t close any doors, there are a lot of ways in. If you can, the more fingers you can have in different pies.
L: Be inspired by other people, but always be yourself. And be kind.
B: And finally, for this show you’re both playing real people who are famous in their own right, what were your challenges preparing for that?
L: I did a lot of research and found that she’s a lot stronger than I am as a human. I was also aware that I was going to have to put elements of myself into it, and find elements of myself in her otherwise I’d have no in.
C: I feel really bad because a lot of the pop culture, including this musical, has been shunned by the families of the real Bonnie and Clyde, just because of how different their takes are on the characters. So for me, I did some research, but not a lot of that translates to what was written in the musical, so I just found a middle ground. A bit of myself, and a bit of what you’ve seen, and what you’ve read, and ..
L: Yeah it’s a bit of a hodgepodge of different bits and pieces.
C: Yeah – and a lot of it is what you think is the best decision in the moment. The more ideas you have of this character you can mix and match and shape it around the other leads and the themes of the show and what the director wants.
L: It’s awesome, because they are real people, they’re so flawed and so layered. It’s a fun time because it’s not really what you get in a musical.
‘Bonnie and Clyde’ plays at the Crete Street Theatre until Saturday 30th November, 2019. To get your tickets head to http://www.beenleightheatregroup.com.
Photography by Laura Feibig
This article’s introduction was written by and has been edited by Shane Webb.