Stage Struck Review

Reviews for theater within the greater Los Angeles area.

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“Bonnie and Clyde” at Candlelight Pavilion: Tuneful if Fanciful Fare

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Beau Brians and Callandra Olivia are “Bonnie and Clyde” at Candlelight Pavilion in Claremont

When one hears the names Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, one is inclined to think first of the groundbreaking 1960s film based on their exploits, or about the fact the two were briefly considered heroes in the financially downtrodden midwest of the Great Depression until those same exploits became too deadly. In 2009 the La Jolla Playhouse premiered a musical. which later traveled to Broadway, based on the legendary criminal couple, focused on their apparently quite real love story – the illicit nature of which was as tantalizing to the 1930s public as their bank robberies.

Now open at the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater in Claremont, “Bonnie and Clyde” proves both captivating and intense, with an engaging pacing and energy. Featuring a fine cast, an score of eclectic styles, an on-stage band, and tight, knowledgeable direction, the show has a bit of something for almost anyone who is fascinated by the combination of brutality and passion these two and those closest to them represented.

The story borders on legend by now, and must of course be truncated some to fit into a couple hours on the stage. Clyde, a long-time petty crook from an impoverished family, falls for Bonnie, a struggling waitress separated from the husband she married at 16, and they fall in love. As Clyde’s ambitions and crimes increase he sucks in both Bonnie and his brother Buck to create a gang which gradually moves from petty thefts and store robberies to bank robberies and murder. Their story becomes fodder for tabloid newspapers, but they become increasingly hunted by law enforcement until their predictable, untimely end in an ambush.

Beau Brians gives the necessary edginess and sings with intensity as Clyde. Callandra Olivia creates in Bonnie a mixture of a young woman wrestling with the dichotomy of personal love and desire, and the dawning acknowledgement of the dangerous path her dreams have let her take. Nic Olsen, as Clyde’s brother and sometime partner in crime, is played for a kind of innocence which counterbalances Clyde’s amorality. Katie McGhie, gives Clyde’s sister-in-law Blanche the kind of backbone missing from the film, and a moral core which pounds against the gang’s actions even as she is drawn into them. All of these performers sing extraordinarily well. Indeed, a duet between Olivia and McGhie, “You Love Who You Love,” is one of the high points of the entire production.

Other standouts among a large and versatile cast include Jennifer Lawson and Lisa Dyson as Bonnie and Clyde’s mothers, respectively, David Sasik as the young deputy in at the finish who had known Bonnie in her waitressing days, and Michael Lanning – a member of the original company – as an intense country preacher. Also worthy of particular note are Serena Thompson and Joey Caraway as the young Bonnie and Clyde, bringing gravitas to their youthful dreams.

Director Victor Hernandez was a member of this show’s Broadway cast, and the familiarity and love he has for this production shines through in every aspect. Chuck Ketter’s remarkable set makes terrific use of the Candlelight’s small stage, making scene changes virtually instantaneous and helping propel the intensity of the piece. Music director Ryan O’Connell leads the on-stage band and keeps the tone and pacing of the entire production – one almost entirely sung – on target.

As happens with most people who become legends, the history of this “Bonnie and Clyde” plays fast-and-loose on occasion with the documentable facts, but it does seem to instill what appears to have been the romantic aspect of their story with somewhat greater accuracy than some accounts. Certainly, it is worth taking a look, and at Candlelight Pavilion it comes with a good meal as well.

What: “Bonnie and Clyde”. When: through October 13, doors open for dinner at 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. on Sundays, and at 11 a.m. for lunch on Saturdays and Sundays  How Much: $63 – $78 adults, $$30 – $35 children under 12, meal inclusive. Info: (909) 626-1254, ext. 1 or www.candlelightpavilion.com

 

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“Legally Blonde” at Candlelight: Froth, Fun and a Bit of a Message

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Callandra Olivia as Elle and Jordan Killion as Emmett in Candlelight Pavilion’s “Legally Blonde” [Photo: Demetrios Katsantonis]

The management of Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater in Claremont has had a remarkable timeliness this past year or so. On the night that white supremacists were marching in Charlottesville, they were opening “South Pacific,” with its messages about the dangers of racial intolerance. As the “Me Too” movement took hold they were running “9 to 5”. As the immigration debate heated up, “Ragtime,” concerning immigration and racial issues at the turn of the last century, was running on their stage. And now, in the most lighthearted of these, the musical based on the film “Legally Blonde” echoes in comic form the push for women’s equality in the workplace commonly called “Time’s Up.”

So, how does this “Legally Blonde” stack up? The show proves polished and teeming with youthful energy. The storyline, silly as it is, comes as a kind of affirmation of hard work, and a rejection of the exclusionary silver-spoon contingent of our society. The music, though comparatively unmemorable, leads to a number of striking dance numbers. In short this is delightfully breezy piece with a quietly serious core.

Essentially, the story follows Elle Woods, a UCLA sorority girl who has skated through college with the understanding that she will end up married to a boy from a prominent family. When that boy rejects her instead and leaves for Harvard Law School, Elle’s sorority sisters help her prep for the LSAT, and she ends up accepted there as well. Once it becomes clear that the boyfriend, Warner, has more upper-crust marriage intents, Elle buckles down as a law student, encouraged by Emmett, another student from a comparatively humble background. Soon she begins to shine on her own, if only as a form of vengeance.

Callandra Olivia has a great time as Elle, creating a character which manages to do what this part always needs: begin as a stereotype and then rise out of it toward a specific ethic and professionalism. As the offensive non-fiance, Warner, Matthew Malecki manages to be as condescending  as needed, and as needy as written. Tara Shoemaker radiates all the nastier traits of the privileged class as Warner’s new love interest.

As Emmett, Jordan Killion balances a mild geekiness with whatever is the mature version of a gee-whiz view of the world. As the hairdresser who keeps Elle grounded – and whose personal concerns provide Elle with proof of the power of knowing the law, Molly Stilliens has an absolute ball, particularly when drooling over Nic Olsen’s UPS guy. As the professor who both gives Elle her big shot and proves her biggest wake-up call, Ron Hastings has a command and a harshness which make that part the catalyst it should be.

Director Chuck Better keeps this very episodic tale moving, in part thanks to his own design for an equally impressive moving collection of set pieces. Alison Keslake’s choreography creates atmosphere and keeps the focus on the lighter, sillier parts of the piece. Rod Bagheri’s musical direction leads to fine ensemble work. if only the mics were set quite so “boomy”, as some essential lyrics get lost in the electronic tonalities.

Still, if you are looking for a bright, airy evening of theater – there are even two dogs on stage – and an light-hearted, mildly feminist message, then “Legally Blonde” is for you. Put on your pink, and come watch justice prevail for a night.

What: “Legally Blonde”  When: through July 14, doors open for dinner at 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, and for lunch 11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont. How Much: $63-$78 adult, $30-$35 children 12 and under, meal inclusive. Info: (909) 626-1254, ext. 1 or www.candlelightpavilion.com

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