Frances Mayli McCann and Jordan Luke Gage on the everlasting appeal of ‘Bonnie & Clyde’
In a world of cancel culture, it seems nonsensical that people could romanticise or socially elevate criminals. However, there are a few who retain an alluring charm, even though they lived a life of crime, and there’s no pair who achieve this quite like Bonnie and Clyde.
During the Great Depression, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow spent years on the run as America’s most notorious criminals. Fast forward a few decades, and their lives are immortalised in musical form: Bonnie & Clyde makes its much-anticipated West End premiere at the Arts Theatre.
“Even though you know you're going back 100 or 200 years, they're still referenced today and everybody still knows who they are,” commented Frances Mayli McCann, who plays Bonnie.
McCann first inhabited the role at the sold-out Bonnie & Clyde concerts at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, opposite original cast member Jeremy Jordan. Coincidentally, another Jordan takes on the role of Clyde in London — Jordan Luke Gage plays the devious rebel.
So how were Bonnie and Clyde glamourised, and more importantly, why does their story lend itself so well to musical theatre? We caught up with London’s current Bonnie and Clyde, Frances Mayli McCann and Jordan Luke Gage, to chat about taking a concert staging to a fully-fledged musical, the Arts Theatre’s intimate beauty, and the role of Bonnie & Clyde’s superfans.
Bonnie & Clyde is now at the Garrick Theatre.
You're both back together after starring in Heathers at the Haymarket last year. How does it feel to be working alongside one another again?
Frances Mayli McCann: It's really, really nice. When we did Heathers together, it was weird because the role of JD, he doesn't really see anyone apart from Veronica on stage, so it's nice that we actually spend so much time together.
Coming in, we skipped that first step of getting to know each other and getting comfortable with each other – because Bonnie and Clyde are very close and very intimate. So we were already a step ahead.
Jordan Luke Gage: Yeah, definitely, I agree. We've definitely got to know each other so much better during this show, because we're just working so closely with each other.
For those who might be unaware of the story, what happens in Bonnie & Clyde?
Jordan: Bonnie and Clyde became famous because they went on the run back in the 1930s. They kind of got caught up in this spiral of crimes and murders. They became famous through all of the crazy things that they were doing, reported in newspapers every day, and people always idolised them and looked up to them even though they were criminals. So it was kind of a strange thing to happen at the time.
Our show focuses on how they met. And it goes from that very first meeting all the way up until when their lives ended. So you [go] on this whole crazy roller coaster journey with them where they meet loads of different people along the way. And yes, you will have the tricky situations that they get themselves into.
Frances: They’re the most notorious, infamous couple of criminals through St. Louis. So although they were criminals, and they did bad, terrible things, people still idolised them and love them. There was no option for them because of the [Great] Depression so the only life they could choose was a life of crime.
Frances, you played Bonnie in the Drury Lane concert. How was that experience?
Frances: It was so incredible. In the space of a week we put this together and it wasn't a concert that everyone expected. It was down to [director] Nick Winston, he did a brilliant show. It was madness!
We had this massive production completely sold out, so we had all this momentum. It was such a high and honestly one of the highlights of my career. I felt so overwhelmed and honestly cannot believe that they asked me to do it.
What goes into staging a musical concert and then taking that concert into a fully staged production? Did much change?
Frances: Oh, I think a lot has changed. We already had a solid foundation to start rehearsals on for the fully staged show. We've changed the cast, the set is new, and we did make some cuts to the book for the concert. So now, it feels well rounded – it just makes a little bit more sense.
And Jordan, you’re playing Clyde. What do you enjoy most about playing the role?
Jordan: Honestly, everything. It's my favourite job I've played so far because it has it all. I feel like I'm getting to showcase everything that I love to do as a performer. The songs are incredible and I absolutely love the scenes. And then also just playing with darkness but also playing the charm of him and the vulnerability and getting people to root for you and be on your side. This character ticks all the boxes.
Why did you both think Bonnie & Clyde has such an appeal in the West End at this point in time?
Jordan: It came out on Broadway but over 10 years ago, so the soundtrack was online. I know that a lot of people knew the music before it even came over. In the same way that Heathers did, it had a cult following before it's even become a thing. So people were really anticipating the first time it would come over here.
For the older generation, they know who Bonnie and Clyde were as people in history. So they're really intrigued and interested to come and see how that's portrayed on stage. It’s absolutely blown up and the reaction has been insane.
Frances: I think people who come that aren’t usual theatregoers, they know who Bonnie and Clyde are. It's raw, it’s quite mature and funny as well. The music's got a real mixture.
You’ve also got a fan night coming up with megafans coming. Are you and the rest of the cast looking forward to it?
Jordan: Oh, I'm so excited! We've got a Q&A afterwards with the audience that night. The event is to commemorate the date that Bonnie and Clyde were killed. I've done some shows in the past [where] we've done singalong shows or dress-up shows. I’m really looking forward to it.
Frances: We always have great audiences! Because it's such a small intimate theatre, they're right in front of you. You know that they're listening. They're still with you, even the most vocal.
The Arts Theatre is a small venue and audiences in the front row sit close to the stage. Is that daunting?
Jordan: Weirdly, I actually prefer it. There's something about the feeling of the Arts space that really relaxes me. I thought it would be the opposite, because performing in bigger theatres is what we've been doing the last few years. Coming into it I was apprehensive, but if anything, I just liked the feeling of people being so close and it feels like a real experience that you're going on with the audience and you can really feel them leaning in and listening.
Frances: I think it's a really nice space for the show. I’ve never thought of them being right in front of me. Overall this space is ripe for the show because it's so intimate. At the Drury Lane, you couldn't see anyone and it's just so vast, but then when I heard the Arts, I was like, "Oh this is perfect".
As yourselves, if there was one crime that you could commit, and you knew that you would never be punished, what would that crime be?
Jordan: I’d probably steal a super yacht. Like a £10 million yacht but nobody knows. There would be no consequences.
Frances: I’d probably rob a bank, because then I’d have the money to buy the yacht!
Photo credit: Frances Mayli McCann and Jordan Luke Gage (Photos courtesy of production)
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