Ride along with 'Bonnie and Clyde' in latest Split Stage show
Actor Brendan Conaway of Plum says portraying Clyde Barrow in Split Stage Productions’ musical adaptation of “Bonnie and Clyde” is the most challenging role he’s ever played.
“It requires so much energy both physically and vocally,” he says. “It’s an emotional roller coaster for me and Victoria (Buchtan) from the start of the show all the way to the end. Keeping up the energy through our fifth and final performance will be a feat in itself.”
Actors Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway brought the notorious gangster couple from the 1930s to light in the 1967 Academy Award-winning movie “Bonnie and Clyde.”
Conaway says it’s difficult to compare the film with the musical.
Painting a beautiful picture
“Our show does a much better job at introducing you to Bonnie and Clyde as the real human people that they were,” he says. “It paints a beautiful picture of how their life circumstances and the difficulties of that time led them to their life of crime.”
Buchtan of Wexford says she really wanted to be able to bring their passion to life with her portrayal of Bonnie Parker.
“The musical does a great job portraying them for what they were: human. They laughed, they cried, they loved. You feel a sense of closeness with the musical’s characters,” she says.
Director Laura Wurzell of Delmont says the chemistry between the couple and the entire cast is mesmerizing, including Rori Mull and Mike Hamilla who round out the Barrow gang as Clyde’s brother, Buck, and his wife, Blanche.
The musical by Ivan Menchell (book), Don Black (lyrics) and Frank Wildhorn (music) that played on Broadway in 2011 contains many historically accurate details – and some inaccurate ones as well, according to Wurzell.
Passion, love and loyalty
“It is much more the story of a relationship that was formed by passion, love, and loyalty,” she says. “It is easy to see why this couple’s passion allowed them to become celebrities in their day, despite committing murders along the way.”
The music is a blend of rockabilly, blues, gospel and musical theater that help illustrate the development of the relationships and the tones of the show, Wurzell says.
“Beyond the music that is provided to us in the score is the extraordinary talent of the music director Eric Barchiesi and his team of musicians – none better in the area – and the voices in this show. That leads me to the voices of the actors and they are unparalleled.”
Both Buchtan and Conaway have favorite musical numbers in the show that they perform.
Hers is “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad,” because it’s one of the only times that Bonnie shows weakness and fear, as well as her loyalty and love for Clyde.
His favorite is “Raise a Little Hell,” a song his character sings after being in prison for some time and experiencing abuse from fellow inmates and prison guards.
“In this moment our hearts are open to the pain that Clyde is feeling,” Conaway says. It’s also his biggest turning point, when “he transforms from a fun-loving small town criminal into a vengeful, rage-filled big shot with a new agenda.”
Buchtan’s recent credits include “American Idiot” and “The Little Mermaid” (Ariel) at Comtra Theatre. Split Stage past roles include Violet Hilton in “Side Show,” Velma Kelly in “Chicago” and Ilse in “Spring Awakening.”
Conaway’s past Split Stage credits include The Balladeer in “Assassins” and Claude in “Hair.” He also worked on Pittsburgh CLO’s Gallery of Heroes shows “Pioneers of Flight” and “Nellie Bly.”
Wurzell acted in “Steel Magnolias” last summer for Apple Hill Playhouse, choreographed “Big Fish” for The Theatre Factory and will be choreographing “Peter Pan Jr.” for Penn Middle School next.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.