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Bad romance: 'Bonnie & Clyde' highlights love, villainy of historic couple

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Lucinda Breeding

Director Daniel Bryant-Gawne has plenty of experience producing plays. He spent a few years as a theater teacher, and last summer, he directed Aladdin Jr. for DCTedu, the company’s outreach to children and teens.

With Bonnie & Clyde, though, marks his first main stage Denton Community Theatre directing an adult show with an adult cast.

Bonnie & Clyde tells the love story of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, the notorious bank robbers who left a trail of dead in their wake. The musical channels the formidable storytelling power of composer Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll & Hyde), lyricist Don Black (Tell Me on a Sunday) and playwright Ivan Menchell (The Cemetery Club) in a solidly 21st Century show. There’s just one major dance number in the musical and the songs mostly reveal the innermost feelings of the characters instead of punching the plot forward. The score blends Broadway sounds with rockabilly and gospel.

Bryant-Gawne said the musical doesn’t spend all its time on the homicidal robbery spree that made the North Texas couple infamous.

“The musical is about the relationships. It’s not just about the wrong they did,” Bryant-Gawne said. “That’s a big part of it, but it’s also about how what they did affects their families.”

Alex Peters plays the role of the fast-talking Clyde, and Anna Peña plays the ambitious Bonnie. The actors said the musical is a warts-and-all depiction of the couple’s love story and their crimes.

“I can really relate to Clyde,” said Peters, who is bound for the Guildford School of Acting in the United Kingdom next month . “For him, this isn’t a dream. He says that other people have dreams. He has plans. For him, this is going to happen. He’s going to make it happen.”

In the musical, Barrow idolizes gangster Al Capone. Barrow admires Capone’s cunning, his dominance of a crime syndicate and infamy.

“It’s hard not to have some sympathy for them,” Peters said. “They were a couple of poor kids growing up in the Depression. What else was there for them? What could they do?”

Peña said she has some things in common with Parker.

“It’s weird because I relate to her in so many ways. She wants to be famous. She wants to be a movie star. I’ve been there,” she said.

The actors visited the couple’s graves, located in different Dallas cemeteries.

“It’s nothing, really. Clyde’s grave isn’t anything special,” Peters said.

“You can tell people have visited Bonnie’s grave,” Peña said. “There were flowers around, like people had visited.”

The actors said the writers of the musical treat the outlaws as complicated people who made fateful decisions in a hardscrabble time and place.

“You’re on their side,” Peña said. “You’re rooting for them.”

Bryant-Gawne said the script calls for a lot of locations, and set designer Pete Kelly crafted a versatile set to tell the story visually. Each side of the stage is walled off, with two square units that break away and spin.

“Those units are a lot of different settings for us,” Kelly said. “They serve as the jail, the beauty parlor, the restaurant where Bonnie’s waitressing, (and) the courtroom. The hard part was making sure each of the places looks different enough. You have to get creative. We have a counter that is a bar, and then it’s the counter in the bank and the judge’s bench in the courtroom.”

Bryant-Gawne said she and Kelly want the set to fill in the blanks, especially for the audience that wasn’t around during the Depression.

“I want it to take people back in time,” she said. “I want it to feel dusty. Hot. I want people to feel that this is a hard place to be.”

Bonnie & Clyde debuted on Broadway in 2011. Denton Community Theatre is mounting the show almost 50 years after movie stars Warren Beatty (Clyde), Estelle Parsons (Blanche) and Michael J. Pollard (C.W. Moss) came to Denton for the regional premiere of the film. The Campus Theatre, then a cinema, screened the premiere on Sept. 13.

“This is a special show for me,” Bryant-Gawne said. “My first show was in Denton Community Theatre, in Member of the Wedding. I’ve directed a lot of shows, always with kids. So this is special for me with my personal history, and with the history of the film and the Campus Theatre.”

Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Friday, Aug. 17-19. A matinee is 2 p.m. on Sunday, Aug.  20. All performances are at the Campus Theatre, 214 W. Hickory St.

Tickets cost  $22 for adults, $18 for ages 62 and up, $15 for students, $10 for ages 12 and under. For reservations, call 940-382-1915.

Bonnie & Clyde includes live gunfire through blank bullets.

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877 and via Twitter at @LBreedingDRC.