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REVIEW: Bonnie & Clyde at Sunderland Empire

Bonnie & Clyde

Sunderland Empire

Until Saturday 23 March 2024

The first ever UK & Ireland tour of Bonnie & Clyde the Musical has landed in Wearside this week. It has music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Don Black and a book by Ivan Menchell. 

Alex James-Hatton as Clyde

We love new musicals and it is always great to see one that works well. This show has a great live band backing a talented cast. Interesting projections help set up the scene - clear use of shadows can state a lot and remove with need for extraneous exposition. The book is full of sweet and dark humour. So whilst the story starts at the end - thus pointing out that it is going to be a dark ending - it is a worthwhile journey for the audience getting there. 

Katie Tonkinson - Alex James-Hatton as Bonnie and Clyde 

The production states "Bonnie & Clyde The Musical is the story of two small-town kids from the middle of nowhere who became the biggest folk heroes in all America. They craved adventure - and each other. Fearless, shameless, and alluring, this is the electrifying story of love, adventure and crime that captured the attention of an entire nation."

Katie Tonkinson - Alex James-Hatton as Bonnie and Clyde 

We first meet the eponymous characters before they meet up. Bonnie (Katie Tonkinson) is a waitress who dreams of earning $30 a week as an actress in the movies. She is lucky to have a job in the depression era United States. Then we meet Clyde (Alex James- Hatton) who is aware that his parents are about to lose everything and dreaming of being like his hero Al Capone. A chance meeting as Bonnie is trying to fix a broken car whilst Clyde is on the run sees the pair immediately clicking as a couple. 

Katie Tonkinson - Alex James-Hatton as Bonnie and Clyde 

We also get to meet Clyde's brother, who is also on the run. Buck (Sam Ferriday) is already in a stable relationship and his wife Blanche is keen for him to hand himself in so that he completes his time and is no longer on the run.

Jaz Ellington - Preacher 

At this point I should point out that on opening night we had a fantastic performance from the cover Oonagh Cox as Blanche. Understudies rarely let the audience down and this was no exception. Apparently Catherine Tyldesley will be back in the role for the rest of the Sunderland run.

The music is a mixed bunch. We have gospel - Jaz Ellington, as the Preacher, gives a fantastic performance in God's Arms Are Always Open. We have pop - indeed the performance of Cox and Tonkinson in You Love Who You Love was reminiscent of Chess the musical. We have more contemporaneous music like James-Hatton and Ferriday's second act performance of Too Late To Turn Back which had some great moments from the band to add to the feel of the number. Where the musical slightly lets the show down was in the more rock based numbers that felt out of place in the feel of the piece about the depression.

This is a great musical with a decent story running through the core of it. Great central performances of the Bonnie & Clyde creating a dynamic that the audience can understand, even if they don't agree with their decisions.  The pace was even over the 130 minutes, plus interval - though I kept thinking we were about the get the interval a few times before we actually did in the first act. The singing performances lifted a set of songs, even though the songs themselves tend not to linger in the memory for very long afterwards.

I am glad I got to check out Bonnie & Clyde - it is definitely one of the better new musicals that I have seen recently.

Review: Stephen Oliver

Photos: Richard Davenport


Bonnie & Clyde appears on the Sunderland Empire’s stage from Tuesday 19 – Saturday 23 March 2024. Tickets available from £13 at*A £3.65 transaction fee applies to online bookings. 

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