Bonnie and Clyde, one of the best movies of the '60s, was Arthur Penn's Depression-era, on-the-road romance-among-bank robbers masterpiece. Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty played the title roles, with Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons in the supporting roles of Clyde's brother, Buck Barrow, and his wife, Blanche. Well, they've made it into a Broadway musical: Frank Wildhorn composed the music, Don Black wrote the lyrics, Ivan Menchell did the book and Jeff Calhoun directs. The show was a big hit at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, and one of the stand-outs was Melissa van der Schyff (Big River) who plays Blanche. I spoke with Melissa during a lunch break from rehearsals.
Hi Melissa. So a lot of people have seen the movie, so they should have a good idea of the story.
It's a brand new take on it. It's not based on the movie. I think people will get a brand new perspective on it. I think Estelle Parsons is great, but I haven't seen the movie. I purposely didn't see it when I knew I was going to be in this show. I wanted to come up with my own take on it.
How is this different than the film?
It starts out with Bonnie and Clyde as kids, and it takes them on their journey; kids in hard-times, and eventually they're killers. It starts out earlier than the movie, and kind of shows you why they turned to this kind of life.
Did you do some research to prepare for the role?
As far as my character, I was lucky to get in contact with Blanche's cousin, who lives in Texas. She has a website, and she had a recorded interview with Blanche. I started to listen to her voice, and how she expressed herself. And I e-mailed back and forth with her cousin. Also, Blanche had written an autobiography, so I was able to get some first-hand information. To be playing a historical character, and having that kind of source material has been pretty fortunate. I hope I can use my imagination and what I've learned to be as close to Blanche as possible.
So it's a musical.
The book part is written as a play, so the story part is very strong. It's a dramatic story, thrilling, an adventure. But there's a lot of humor in it too. The audience will be surprised as to how they will be moved by it; also, they will laugh. The music fits the time period. You have country, blues and pop. The romance between Bonnie and Clyde is captured, and also the romance between Buck and Blanche. Also there's the action, seen live on stage. Even in the rehearsal room, there are guns and violence. Even though I've seen it in rehearsal, I'm holding my breath to see who gets shot and what happens.
Tell me about Blanche.
She's interesting in the story because she's the one who tries to stop the madness at the start. She says in her autobiography that everything she did was for the love of this man. Buck is Clyde's brother, and, at first, he's going back and forth as to whether or not to join his brother in a life of crime. He's in jail and he escapes from jail and goes to her. Blanche is trying to convince him to go back and turn himself in, so he can finish out his sentence and they can start anew.
I listened to that song you sing there, where Buck joins in, "You're Going Back To Jail." The title/chorus is great, and the lyrics are funny.
But in the course of the play, she ends up following him and becomes a part of the Barrow gang. In those days they didn't have Dr. Phil or Oprah, telling you to "love yourself first." Back then it was "love your man" and "stand by your man" and follow him. What's interesting about Blanche's choice, it poses the question, "What is going too far for love?" There's a song that Blanche and Bonnie sing together that basically is about "What do you do when you're head over heels in love with someone, and you have to choose between right and wrong?" There's also the archetypical thing of a woman falling in love with a "bad boy."
The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St., (212) 239-6200. Previews Nov. 14, opens Dec. 1. Tickets here.