Theater Advisor put out an open call for guest bloggers to attend a Broadway show followed by a Q&A. Two were selected and on December 6, 2011 Robin Riegelhaupt and Yael Maxwell made their way to Schoenfeld Theatre to see Bonnie & Clyde the Musical, which closes Decemeber 30. After the show, they were welcomed to Hurley’s Saloon for a quick Q&A with with director Jeff Calhoun, scenic and costume designer Tobin Ost and cast members Claybourne Elder (Buck Barrow) and Melissa van der Schyff (Blanche Barrow). Below are a couple of entries about the event.
Bonnie & Clyde: A Post-Show Discussion
by Robin Riegelhaupt, writer, reviewingthedrama.com
If you’re like me, whenever you watch a show your mind fills with questions you want to ask the cast and creative team. (Like, “What kind of wonderful brilliance goes on inside visionary director Michael Mayer’s head?” Or, “Why on earth does Zach Braff keep writing the same character?”) Well, shortly after Bonnie & Clyde: A New Musical opened, I got the chance to ask my questions!
On December 6, 2011, Bonnie & Clyde held a digital press event. My fellow bloggers and I attended that evening’s performance of the show and then headed over a few blocks to Hurley’s Saloon (an appropriately whiskey-slinging joint) for an informal Q&A with director/choreographer Jeff Calhoun, scenic and costume designer Tobin Ost and cast members Claybourne Elder (Buck Barrow) and Melissa van der Schyff (Blanche Barrow).
Everyone on the panel seemed truly passionate about the show (which isn’t always a given), and they appeared grateful for the
chance to interact with us. In fact, when I asked them all how different audiences reacted to the show (the show played in Sarasota and La Jolla before landing on Broadway), van der Schyff said that while she didn’t notice a huge difference in audience reactions, her favorite part is always getting to talk to the audience afterwards. She said she loves connecting with theatergoers at the stage door after a show. I hear this a lot from performers; they care less about traditional critics than they do about interacting with the audience.
And speaking of traditional critics, my biggest take away of the night is that Calhoun has a (self-admittedly) huge chip on his shoulder about journalists. (He used the term journalists, but I think we could all tell he was referring to that special subset of journalists known as critics.) Over and over, he expressed annoyance at critics doing their job: taking a critical, removed look at a show.
I can understand his point of view; a show should not live or die by what critics say. However, many theatergoers rely on reviews to help them decide what to see. A majority don’t get to see as many productions as I do, and they often pay full price. Tickets are expensive these days, so if a casual audience member has the choice between a well-reviewed show and show that received mixed to poor reviews, he’s going to choose the show that everyone thinks is great. From his comments regarding “journalists,” it seems to me that Calhoun is too close to the production to see the flaws critics have noted, or to be able to take the criticism without feeling personally attacked.
Not nearly as defensive but equally as proud of his work was designer Tobin Ost. He, too, has been working on this show for several years. (He said that in all three locales, he’s been pleasantly surprised by the number of men who approach him after the show with specific questions and comments about the cars, guns and other scenic elements.) When asked about creating both the scenic and costume design, Ost responded that he particularly likes doing both because then “the right hand knows what the left hand is doing.” (I wish that was the case in my office!) Ost also added that he’s excited to see scenic design evolving into a fuller, more interesting and multi-dimensional art form, with many scenic designs now including projection, and some even looking like movies.
Later in the evening, cast members Elder and van der Schyff were asked about how they approached their respective characters. Both actors commented that basically everyone who came in contact with Bonnie or Clyde wrote a book about them, and Elder noted that the conflicting stories told among the books made Buck much more interesting and complex. Elder went on to say that he most connected to Buck’s heart, while van der Schyff said she could relate to Blanche’s loyalty.
In the end, I didn’t walk away with any new revelations about the production or a different appreciation for it. But, it was fun to get to chat with Calhoun, Ost, Elder and van der Schyff, and to see firsthand just how committed to Bonnie & Clyde they all are.
Bonnie & Clyde Q&A
By Yael Maxwell
There’s not much I love more about New York than Broadway. Hence, when Theater Advisor asked me to be a guest blogger, see the new show Bonnie and Clyde and recap a post-show Q&A event with some of the cast and creative team, I jumped at the chance.
The tale of Bonnie and Clyde is one of those legendary American stories that everyone knows at least a little bit about. However, only knowing the fragment about love and crime (I didn’t even know exactly what happened to them in the end, but I won’t spoil it here!), I decided to watch the classic 1967 movie with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway the night before. With that in my head before the actual show I figured I’d be able to focus more on the creative characteristics of the show itself and not merely the plot.
I thoroughly enjoyed the show itself. The acting was wonderful and I found the songs catchy, unlike some die-hard critics out there. The simple, yet flawlessly transformable set could have easily stolen the show, but instead it functioned as an additional character with the sole purpose of connecting everything that was happening on stage. Overall, I was able to completely give myself over to the story and be swept away by the magic of Broadway.
After the performance, the show held a digital media Q&A at Hurley’s Saloon. Director Jeff Calhoun, scenic/costume designer Tobin Ost and cast members Claybourne Elder (Butch Barrow) and Melissa van der Schyff (Blanche Barrow) were in attendance and took turns answering questions related to the show, its relationship to the movie and how the real characters in the story might have reacted to the musical today.
After several questions regarding the iconic film, Calhoun commented that he did not set out to make a musical based on a movie, but rather, wanted to create a show based on a real American story – not an easy feat in the world of never-ending movie-to-Broadway musicals.
“New musicals are hard to come by,” he said. “I’m an independent contractor. I don’t write. So I’m at the mercy of finding material that speaks to me. I spent the last five years developing this show because I love it and I’m proud of it.”
Taking a unique approach to a musical and not including any large production dance numbers, Calhoun said he thinks of Bonnie and Clyde as “a play with music.”
Because Broadway has seen its fair share of wackadoodle musicals (I won’t name names), the creators of this show took a risk in
putting on a production essentially about criminals. I’ve heard plenty of chit chat about the implausibility of creating a musical, which is usually lighthearted, about murder and poverty. However, every musical I’ve seen seems to have some sort of take home message. For Bonnie and Clyde, the love story was pronounced and the criminals got what they deserved, but the show really emphasized the economic climate in America during that time in our history and the injustices committed on both sides of the gun, so to say.
“Poverty made Clyde a criminal. Jail made him a murderer. Only in America at that time in our history, could two such animals have been created,” Calhoun said, adding that the show was created to be the most truthful telling of the actual events as possible, while the film was “very ‘Hollywood’ and loose with the facts.”
Van der Schyff added to that saying, “I think it’s interesting how one wrong choice can steer your life in the wrong direction.” She followed that up by noting that the choice Blanche made to follow Butch into a life of crime may have been well-intentioned (in her mind she was standing by her man), but ultimately ended up, let’s just say, poorly.
Taking inspiration from all of the “dilapidated barns” near his home in rural Pennsylvania, Ost said the “total organic process” of creating the set enabled him to fabricate something that would flow seamlessly with the fast-paced script. In addition, the set was filled with symbolism, right down to the topography which Calhoun said was “as perilous as the times that [Bonnie and Clyde] were living in.”
In terms of how the real Bonnie and Clyde would react to the fanfare of a Broadway musical about them, Calhoun said, “I think they’d be thrilled that there was a movie, and they’d be thrilled that there was a play. They were egomaniacal and they really did both want to be famous in their own right.”
Both van der Schyff and Elder said they go into every performance not only thinking about the personalities of the real Buck and Blanche, but also about their collective spiritual presence. “We like to set an intention before each show that if [the character’s] spirits are with us that they would hopefully be happy that we’re telling their story with the intention of maybe someone is going to make a different choice in their life tonight,” van der Schyff said.
“That’s all you could ever hope for, that someone would be changed by what you do,” Elder added. “This show is a really amazing opportunity to do that because of the story.”
Summing up, Calhoun said he went into this show with the objective to create something truly original. “I try to do shows for better or for worse that don’t look like other shows,” he said. “At least if I stole, it was by mistake. I think we have our own integrity, our own DNA. It’s actually adult storytelling and I like that. I’m proud of that. The audiences that like it appreciate it on that level and I’m really grateful for that.”