Performing Arts

Slow Burn Theatre serves up a scorching ‘Bonnie & Clyde’

The cast of Slow Burn’s ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ sings of hard economic times in America.
The cast of Slow Burn’s ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ sings of hard economic times in America. Gemma Bramham

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow would seem to have embraced the philosophy “live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse.”

They pulled off the first two, but the third? Probably not, since they were shot an estimated 25 times each. She died at 23, while he made it to 25. The infamous outlaws went out together, in a hail of bullets, on May 23, 1934.

Parker and Barrow committed robberies and murders during their truncated lifetimes, becoming nattily dressed folk “heroes” in Depression-era America. But their infamy has lasted far longer than they did, with Arthur Penn telling their story in the 1967 Faye Dunaway-Warren Beatty movie Bonnie and Clyde, and the musical theater team of composer Frank Wildhorn, lyricist Don Black and Ivan Menchell creating the short-run 2011 Broadway show Bonnie & Clyde.

Boca Raton’s Slow Burn Theatre, which will move to the Broward Center next season, has built a multifaceted reputation for strong work in a short period of time. One of the things that director-choreographer Patrick Fitzwater does so well is to highlight the virtues of musicals with troubled track records. Largely, he does so again with Bonnie & Clyde, which will move to the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center after its Boca Run.

The show starts with a bang (or 50 of them), as the photogenic outlaws are shot dead in their car. Then it leaps back to the duo’s hardscrabble childhoods near Dallas, as the young Bonnie (Juliette Valle) sings of wanting to be a movie star like Clara Bow, and little Clyde (Nicholas V. Ismailoff) brags about his way with a gun.

Then, still young but already married to and abandoned by one bad guy, waitress Bonnie (Jessica Brooke Sanford) meets stickup artist Clyde (Bruno Faria). The electricity between the characters is so hot that it may just be the two actors powering Lance Blank’s lighting design. Sanford graduated not so long ago from Miami’s New World School of the Arts, and Faria is a soon-to-graduate senior at Florida Atlantic University. For both of these charismatic young actors with their strong voices, Bonnie & Clyde is a breakout show.

Casting is another job Fitzwater does particularly well. From the meaty roles of Clyde’s brother Buck (Christian Vandepas) and his wife Blanche (Kaela Antolino) to assorted lawmen, the outlaws’ families and the ensemble, Fitzwater has found good actor-singer-dancers who wholeheartedly sell the material as music director Emmanuel Schvartzman and four other musicians provide the instrumental give-and-take.

Sean McClelland’s set, dominated by corrugated metal, has platforms and niches and nooks to serve the show’s multiple locations. Rick Peña’s stylish 1930s costumes are good across the board, particularly conveying the fashion obsession of the title characters, and he even reproduces one of Parker’s much-photographed outfits.

Sanford’s How ‘Bout a Dance is one of the musical’s highlights, as are Faria’s tender Bonnie and Antolino’s lovely That’s What You Call a Dream.

What Fitzwater can’t do, though, is blur the fact that Bonnie & Clyde is asking its audiences to root for antiheroes who robbed and murdered on their way to an early date with death. His execution can’t trump theirs.

If you go

What: ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ by Frank Wildhorn, Don Black and Ivan Menchell.

Where: Slow Burn Theatre production at West Boca Performing Arts Theatre, 12811 Glades Rd., Boca Raton, through Feb. 8 (moves to Aventura Arts & Cultural Center, 3385 NE 188th St., Aventura, Feb. 12-14).

When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.

Cost: $25-$40 ($40 and $45 Aventura).

Information: 866-811-4111 or www.slowburntheatre.org (877-311-7469 or www.aventuracenter.org).

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