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Washington County Playhouse brings crime, romance and intrigue with 'Bonnie & Clyde'

Washington County Playhouse brings crime, romance and intrigue with 'Bonnie & Clyde'

The Washington County Playhouse Dinner Theater will bring to the stage a story of crime, romance and intrigue with its production of “Bonnie & Clyde.”

The 2009 musical by Frank Wildhorn captures a part of American culture in which “sometimes the bad guys get to be celebrities,” said Shawn Martin, owner and producing artistic director for the theater and director of the show.

Martin said he and his wife Laura Martin, who co-own the theater, chose to produce the show first and foremost because of Frank Wildhorn’s music.

“He also wrote Broadway’s ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ and ‘The Scarlet Pimpernil,’” Martin said. “The music is beautiful and catchy and we wanted to share that with the audience.”

Martin describes the music as country with a little bit of rockabilly and southern gospel.

“When you first hear that “Bonnie & Clyde” is a musical, you might think, ‘Well how would that fit?’ Then you hear the score and it really complements and amplifies the story much more than you might think,” he said.

Based on a true story at the height of the Great Depression, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow went from small-town west Texans to notorious folk heroes as they traveled the central United States robbing small stores, gas stations and banks and murdering a number of people along the way.

“There is definitely a sort of niche for that type of entertainment, I guess,” Martin said. “We get to experience these things hopefully from a distance, but it is intriguing and this gives you a chance to do that,” he said.

Jennifer Dickey stars as Bonnie and Rennes Carbaugh as Clyde. Given that the couple’s crime spree occurred about 100 years ago, Martin said, the characters are known to audiences mainly through lore, written accounts or film depictions.

“Our goal was not so much impersonating them exactly how they would have appeared at that time but basically the portrayal is driven by the script,” he said. “It’s based on everything that happened to them with artistic liberties taken as you have to do when you are adapting stories for film or stage.”

The story is condensed so that it can be told within a couple of hours, and the characters are presented in a way with which people can identify.

“The rough edges may be smoothed over in the show to make the characters more empathetic,” Martin said. “As you can imagine, with a criminal being the lead in the show, you’ve got to give them some soft underbelly, if you will.”

In addition to directing the production, Martin acts in a supporting role as Buck, Clyde’s brother, a character he describes as “older and maybe slightly the less sharp of the two brothers.”

“He tends to follow Clyde as he gets into plotting crimes. He also always felt sort of targeted or picked on by police for being poor and in the wrong place at the wrong time. He felt he never had a chance to thrive in society at the time,” Martin said.

Buck is misguided and follows Clyde down the wrong path with destructive results.

In a time of Depression era breadlines, some people viewed the characters as fighting back against a government that wasn’t doing its best to make people’s lives better, Martin said.

“When they stole from a bank that actually had money, some people saw poetic justice in that,” he said.

“Bonnie & Clyde,” the musical, appeared for just four weeks on Broadway during December 2011. Nonetheless, Martin said actors love the show and audiences respond to it as well.

“It was very popular when we announced it with people who have performed (at the playhouse) and for everyone in the Tri-State area that is involved with theater,” he said.

Audiences are likely to find the music and the story to be compelling as well as thought-provoking, he said.

“It’s mostly learning just about how people are. There were some really bad things they did. They had wants, needs, desires and they made poor choices but they were still people,” Martin said. “It’s important for the actors to make the characters accessible but the audience makes the judgement whether they were good or bad.”

Top photo: Jennifer Dickey as Bonnie and Rennes Carbaugh as Clyde. (Submitted photos)

If you go ...

WHAT: “Bonnie & Clyde” 
WHEN: Friday, Jan. 17 through Sunday, Feb. 23. Some dates sold out. Check website for availability.
WHERE: The Washington County Playhouse Dinner Theater, 44 N. Potomac St., rear entrance, Hagerstown
COST: $53.50 per ticket. Includes dinner and show, and coffee, tea, and iced tea. Bar tab and gratuity not included.
CONTACT: Call 301-739-7469 or visit www.washingtoncountyplayhouse.com

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