Stage Struck Review

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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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Solid “Guys and Dolls” at Candlelight Pavilion (plus a good dinner!)

Robert Hoyt as Nicely-Nicely Johnson leads a rollicking "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" in Candlelight Pavilion's "Guys and Dolls" [photo: Demetrius Kastantonis]

Robert Hoyt as Nicely-Nicely Johnson leads a rollicking “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” in Candlelight Pavilion’s “Guys and Dolls” [photo: Demetrius Kastantonis]

Essentially, there are three elements which are necessary for the musical “Guys and Dolls” to work. First, it must be done completely straight. The peculiar formality of Damon Runyon characters’ slang must be respected as ordinary speech. The seriousness of every characters position must be taken at face value, no matter how silly it seems to the watcher. Second, the leads must be able to sing – really sing – including the minor characters. Third, everything from costumes to setting must be just a little bit larger than life.

Add to that appropriate, often fun choreography and singers who really can act, and you have a formula for happy result. All of this is present at the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater in Claremont, where even when the casting is a bit more original than sometimes, the results are fit nicely together into the silly-serious package that makes the show.

The tale, concocted from several Runyon stories, follows a couple of connected paths: Nathan Detroit, operator of a famed floating crap game, must find a venue for his event – difficult because “the heat is on.” Speaking of heat, his fianc√© of many years, Adelaide, is pushing for a wedding. To finance his search for a site, Nathan bets visiting high roller Sky Masterson that he cannot convince Sarah, the leader of the local Salvation Army-style mission, to go to pre-Castro Havana with him for an evening. As Sky worms his way into Sarah’s world, Nathan ducks the cops and his girl, and all of New York’s underpinnings sing and dance up a storm.

Victor Hernandez is a far scruffier Nathan than sometimes appears, but that plays well to his equally scruffy occupation and current circumstances. His fuddling indecisiveness around Adelaide, played with authority by Stacy Huntington, seems more organic as is his fear of marriage. Allen Everman gives Sky a slickness which evolves into genuine concern with small but interesting “tells”. Ashley Grether’s Sarah has a kind of frenetic strength which provides just the right counterpoint. Indeed, Her “If I Were a Bell” becomes a highlight of the piece.

Backing these leads are both a fine ensemble of dancers, and some secondary players worthy of special note. Robert Hoyt gives the ever-apologetic Nicely-Nicely Johnson real presence. Emerson Boatwright becomes a truly comic visual joke as Big Jule, and plays it to the hilt. Jim Marbury supplies just the right combination of authority and practical frustration as Lieutenant Brannigan, the cop who never quite catches a break.

Greg Hinrichsen’s mash-up of New York makes a facile setting for the story, and Laurie Muniz’s choreography captures the feel the show must have – a kind of gentlemanly machismo for the gamblers, and classic burlesque for Adelaide and her girls. Andrew Orbison has the singers on target with even the complex things they must coordinate without a conductor – not a small feat. Still, the unifying force for tone, tempo of performance and structure is the sure hand of director John LaLonde. He has brought together all the elements, and keeps the whole thing cohesive, intentionally silly, and invariably upbeat.

So, go have fun. Damon Runyon was once a household word – quoted even in Abbot and Costello films. Today, it’s tough to find his stories, except in “Guys and Dolls”, making the show, in its way, a form of literary treasure. At Candlelight you also get a lovely meal, making the total evening relaxing and generally satisfying. What a nice way to welcome in the new year.

What: “Guys and Dolls” When: Through February 27, open for dinner at 6 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, at 5 p.m Sundays, and opened for matinee lunch at 11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont How Much: $58-$73 adults, $30-$35 children, meal-inclusive Info: (909) 626-1254, ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com

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