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America’s Most Notorious Lovers Get a Closer Look in The Garden Theatre’s Bonnie & Clyde

Kinley Pletzer, Austin Colburn, Jackie Cortina and Taylor Fisher in The Garden Theatre’s production of Bonnie & Clyde.
Kinley Pletzer, Austin Colburn, Jackie Cortina and Taylor Fisher in The Garden Theatre’s production of Bonnie & Clyde. Photo by Pin Lim
From a classic 1967 Arthur Penn-directed film to an early-aughts duet by pop music royalty, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow’s Depression-era crime spree has repeatedly inspired works of art.

The Garden Theatre is about to open one of those works, Bonnie & Clyde – a musical with a book by Ivan Menchell, lyrics by Don Black and music by Frank Wildhorn – on August 11 at The MATCH.

But if you’re familiar with the musical, which premiered on Broadway in 2011, the show’s director, Logan Vaden, says The Garden Theatre’s production will be a little different, a little more twinkly toed.

“I always envisioned [the musical] as, ‘Oh, they’re dancing and it looks beautiful and it looks like Fred and Ginger,’” says Vaden. “Come to find out after seeing multiple productions and doing research into the Broadway production, the show’s actually never been very dance-y. So, in my director mind, I thought this needs to happen.”

Under Vaden’s direction, the production will call back to old Hollywood musicals, and he thinks it actually makes the show more interesting.

“Bonnie, as a real human obviously and in the show itself, aspires to be a movie star, and so that really pulls out that desire even more because it mimics a lot of the things she would have seen in the movies at the time,” says Vaden. “It just pulls out the want and the longing, which makes it even a little bit more crushing once we get to the end.”

Parker and Barrow famously met their end in 1934, ambushed by police officers in Louisiana. Though Vaden makes it clear that it does not necessarily glorify their lives, the musical will show the pair in a different light, especially Parker.

“The character that my heart has bled over is Bonnie,” says Vaden. “Clyde always had a mean streak, and he always wanted to be the next Al Capone and that’s pretty clear from the very beginning, that this was his goal, to achieve this fame, but you see her dreams and you see her desires more than we’ve ever seen before.”

Jackie Cortina will play the role of Bonnie opposite Austin Colburn as Clyde, and Vaden calls them both “true triple threats.”

“[Cortina’s] voice is just soaring. Just when you think she can’t get any higher with her belting, it goes even higher, and then when you think it can’t get higher than that, it goes about three more notes,” says Vaden.

Cortina previously starred in The Garden Theatre’s production of Cruel Intentions, also opposite Colburn, who Vaden met almost 10 years ago while directing a production of Heathers: The Musical.

Colburn auditioned with “Raise a Little Hell” from Bonnie & Clyde and it not only won him the role of J.D., but it convinced Vaden that Colburn was meant to play Clyde.

“We did this show for Austin to play Clyde,” adds Vaden. “We did not hold auditions for the role of Clyde, it was always going to be him.”

Vaden was so sure Colburn would be a perfect Clyde that before the pandemic, the two talked about trying to find a theater that would let them mount the show. Within 15 minutes, however, Vaden said the conversation went in a different direction.

“I came up with the idea of, ‘Well, why don’t we just do it ourselves? Why don’t we make a theater company and this will be our first show?” Though the pandemic ultimately changed their programming plans, Vaden is clear: “The Garden Theatre exists because we were doing this show.”

As their summer musical, Bonnie & Clyde is also the biggest production The Garden Theatre has done to date.

“It’s kind of coming out to the world and saying, ‘Look what we can do,’” says Vaden with a laugh.

The show features a larger staging space, more than double the number of costumes – period costumes, at that – and a total cast of 20, including swings Toby Mustard and Ashley Cooper.

Yes, Vaden says, with Mustard and Cooper, this production actually boasts “two incredible Clydes and two incredible Bonnies.”

There’s also a car on stage.

“Stealing cars and driving around all over Texas and the southern United States is a huge part of the story,” says Vaden.

Though putting the production together has had its difficulties, Vaden credits the help they have received from other local theater companies. For example, when they were looking for realistic, time-specific guns, another theater company that previously produced Bonnie & Clyde offered to lend their antique guns to The Garden Theatre.

“It’s been so challenging, but the beautiful part of it is that our Houston theater community has stepped up and has helped us along the way,” says Vaden. “They have generously offered so many things without us even asking, which has been just lovely. It’s been a true testament of community in the arts here in Houston.”

As Bonnie & Clyde prepares to open, Vaden reflects on the continued fascination with the couple, attributing some of it to society’s interest in true crime and some to the obsession with pop culture. Vaden also notes that Parker and Barrow’s story goes on to this day, as relatives of the pair have expressed interest in having Parker exhumed so the two can be buried together.

The two were buried separately in 1934 at the request of Parker’s mother.

“Her exact quote was, ‘He got her in life. He does not get her in death,’” says Vaden.

Since 2018, however, Barrow’s nephew and Parker’s niece have been fighting to bring them together, per Parker’s original wish.

“It seems so distant from us,” says Vaden. “[But] their story just continues to live on in these people that share their last names and people that still love them very much.”

Performances of Bonnie & Clyde are scheduled for August 11-20 at 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays and 7:30 p.m. Thursday at The MATCH, 3400 Main. For more information, visit $21.50-$26.50.
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Natalie de la Garza is a contributing writer who adores all things pop culture and longs to know everything there is to know about the Houston arts and culture scene.