2019 has been the year of an unprecedented upsurge of new independent musical theatre companies in Montreal, and one of its most successful breakaways is back to ascertain its prime positioning.
Contact Theatre left an early imprint on the scene with their debut production – and the English Montreal premiere – of Broadway’s “Bonnie and Clyde” earlier this April of 2019. And, after having played to sold-out audiences during their inaugural run, the gang fleetly returns to the MainLine Theatre for an encore engagement of three public performances this September 6th to the 8th.
The final verdict (now having been a repeat witness to the guiltlessly pleasurable spectacle): it’s as arresting as ever.
Featuring music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Don Black and a book by Ivan Menchell, “Bonnie and Clyde” is a reimagined retelling of the ill-fated love and lives of iconic American outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Bound to the other by their mutual aspirations to fame, fortune, and freedom away from Depression-era Texas, they lead the most passionate of runaway romances. The law catches up with their fast livin’ and hard lovin’, however, as the erotic thrill of the criminal life eventually meets its lethal chill.
Debora Friedmann as director-choreographer (and Contact Theatre co-founder, alongside Ally Brumer) has here rallied her original cast to replicate the tried-and-true. The fine staging, dance choreography, and scenography from the April premiere have been left essentially intact, and audiences returning to the MainLine for a second viewing should do so to further relish what was already a polished piece. The old adage of not attempting to fix what ain’t broken has been formidably applied.
Camille Cormier-Morasse and Joel Bernstein return to enthral as the headlining Bonnie and Clyde. Sterling vocal and acting performances from the scene-stealing partners-in-crime (quite literally, in the world of the script) are rendered transcendental by their charisma and convincing chemistry. The legendary bank robbers are here layered and humanized – armed, but fully disarming in the actors’ easy vulnerability in intimately exposing their characters’ weaknesses in addition to their virtues.
Julia Kennific is a standout as Blanche Barrow, a grounding voice of reason in counterpoint to the reckless gunslingers (and what a riveting voice hers is indeed; Kennific’s numbers are distinct high points of the evening). Alongside Mike Mastromonaco as Blanche’s husband Buck – who, in his own turn, engages with a subdued and sincere portrayal of the more sensible Barrow brother – they make for a belieavable couple with no less of a captivating relationship storyline than that of their outlaw in-laws.
Other memorable appearances include that of Daniel Wilkenfeld, who brings nuanced reserve to Sheriff Ted Hinton and moves the audience to a mesmerized silence with his beautiful lament of unrequited love, “You Can Do Better Than Him”. Corina Vincelli (who’s working double duty as musical director for the production) is also eye and ear-catching as the gospel-singing Priest – a luminous and inspiriting presence amidst the bedlam of corruption. Bryan Libero, despite his brief entrances as the Barrow patriarch, in his refined acting provides some harrowingly still and wordless moments that meaningfully depict the complex family dynamics.
The supporting ensemble is fair (there are uneven performances acting-wise), but as a whole they are synergistic in the energetic, fast-moving narrative.
Notably contributing to the Montreal production’s cohesive design aesthetic are Malika Pharand’s powerfully evocative lighting and projections (scenes on the riser are the most vivid in imagery), Kenzia Dalie’s versatile set elements (streamlined and simple goes a long way), Jess Beyer’s period costumes (we’re feeling the 30’s vibe), and Alizee Millot’s ornate props (I flinch even at the mere thought of guns, and held my breath with every new display of faux weaponry). We’re transported to the callous, barren South and the crescive tension of wrongdoing cuts through the air.
The live band of seven musicians, here conducted by Nick Gallant, adeptly delivers the Tony-nominated score (arguably composer Wildhorn’s best to date), which is best described as a contemporary potpourri of rockabilly, gospel, country, and blues. It’s the power ballads in the likes of “How ‘Bout a Dance?”, “You Love Who You Love”, and “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad” that really drive this musical home, however, and it should be reiterated that Cormier-Morasse’s vocals are most exquisite in them.
Might it also be duly added that “Bonnie & Clyde” is the best a mic’d musical has sounded at the MainLine, where amplification is an acknowledged problem, and it is designer Evan Brown with his expert sound mixing who is perhaps the unsung hero of this production. I have admittedly always been wary of shows with large performing ensembles on headsets at the beloved intimate space, but I have been novelly converted and awakened by the possibilities. Bravo.
For a non-professional production (and a first-time venture for the newly minted company), Contact Theatre’s “Bonnie & Clyde” is solid work. Our only quibble hereout is with the musical itself, which is not particularly groundbreaking on any artistic front, nor is distinctly topical in content, and neither is it fully sympathetic in romanticizing criminality. Risqué?… perhaps, but not to the seasoned theatregoer. As a character study, however, it’s a fascinating foray, and the piece has its stirring moments in exploring the extremes of the human need for recognition and love. Resourceful and tasteful in execution, this local rendering makes the most of the raw available material.
In any case, I suppose foul play is fair in fiction, and it sure makes for some illegally entertaining theatre.
Contact’s got a feel for what’s hot with Montreal audiences, and they’ve now a sturdy springboard in place for their next endeavour, “Chicago“, – also a sensuous story about crime and celebrity – opening in the spring of 2020 at the Rialto Theatre. We look forward to the razzle dazzle.
Contact Theatre presents “Bonnie & Clyde”
Performances: September 6-8, 2019
Venue: MainLine Theatre (3996 St. Laurent)
Tickets: $30 General Admission
Box Office: 514-849-3378 | www.mainlinetheatre.ca