Today in 1934, Bonnie and Clyde got shot a whole bunch in Louisiana. I didn’t know/care much about them growing up, being from Illinois (though Clyde actually robbed an armory up here once!) and probably still wouldn’t except for the fact that Frank Wildhorn, Don Black, and Ivan Menchell decided that their story would make a pretty good musical. It is the musical I am the most fond of in the world but honestly… I am not sure I can agree with that assessment. Broadway didn’t seem to be sure either. While it was nominated for Drama Desk, Outer Critic Circle, and 2 Tony Awards, it also closed in four weeks. The music was phenomenal, a blend of bluegrass, folk, gospel, and rockabilly. But wow is the plot a bit rough. The show involves copious amounts of stage blood, a recreated car that needed to be pulled forward and backwards, a hole on stage for both baptisms and funerals, and so. many. stage. guns.
And while my seven year old has decided she can out-belt Laura Osnes (in her defense she has successfully done it… once) I am actually not sure anyone on the planet is quite as talented as the actress who originated the role of Bonnie Elizabeth Parker. She just got done filming something for Hallmark with Scott Michael Foster (Nathaniel on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) but she’s mostly done stage roles up till this part, having first gotten famous for winning that Grease: You’re the One That I Want! reality show, and then playing Cinderella. You may have seen her as Shirley MacLaine on Fosse/Verdone. She was nominated for Best Actress for her portrayal of Bonnie and cofounded Broadway Princess Party. Starring opposite her was Jeremy Jordan, he of Newsies fame but also Supergirl’s bestie Winn on Supergirl. Claybourne Elder and Melissa van der Schyff rounded out the cast as Buck Barrow and Blanche Barrow.
While it doesn’t seem quite right to memorialize the real Bonnie & Clyde (Spoiler alert: they were not good people) they have played an important part in my own life. I was lucky enough to be the girl dating the best guy to play Clyde at our local theatre, and the theatre was lucky I had started dating him and convinced him to try out. I had prepped for the show about four or five months in advance of auditions, and he came in after a week of practicing but OKAY. That was almost four years ago now and we’re still together. After the show ended I also adopted a cat and named her Bonnie Elizabeth Pawker. I also damaged a vocal chord during the last performance (I was trying not to leave anything on the stage) and still have to pace myself at karaoke to this day. But it was pretty worth it. I researched Bonnie EXTENSIVELY (and did all of Clyde’s research for him) and learned a lot about her. For example: she was married to somebody else THE ENTIRE TIME she and Clyde were together. She still wore his wedding ring. And apparently her husband was pretty cool with this? She spent time in jail herself and got several permanent injuries from driving around with Clyde, leaving her with a limp for the last several years of her life. But she still wore heels to protect her image and had the men of the gang help her around. She once kicked out a different member of the Barrow gang because she didn’t like the guy’s girlfriend and her attempts to make THEM the new Bonnie and Clyde. And she wrote poetry; my favorite is the one I had to memorize for the show. It’s called the Trail’s End and can be found here.
It is… the kind of poem I would have written in high school, where everything has to rhyme and it’s very cheesy and a bit stretching. But there’s omniscience in the final stanza (“Someday they’ll go down together”) that to me is a haunting look at what could have been if they’d just… not done so much crime.
Most adaptations these days paint Bonnie as the criminal mastermind (the show does not; also Clyde was already stealing cars and robbing before he met her, come at me Woody Harrelson) but in the newspaper headlines of the day her name was not even printed. It was just “Clyde and Woman”.
And it’s that which makes me so fond of her, because despite her obvious character deficiencies and lapses of judgment Bonnie made sure it didn’t stay that way, and now her name comes first when we talk about them. She had wanted to be famous, and when the life of crime became the easiest way to do it, she took full advantage; there are stories of her signing autographs MID-ROBBERY. Her story has landed some serious star power in movie and tv adaptations, as well as being referenced by Beyonce. She would have been pleased. Also, remember when Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty announced the wrong Oscar winner? and then just… dipped out without dealing with it? Peak Bonnie & Clyde energy. Here are Cap and I recreating the promo photo from the show which got put on a billboard as well as a picture of Bonnie Elizabeth Pawker.