MTM’s Gangsters at Large

MTM’s Gangsters at Large
Lions and tigers and gangsters: Brian Shutters and Fiorella Fernandez, the stars of MTM's 'Bonnie & Clyde," camp it up at the Vilas Zoo.

You don’t typically expect to see 1930s-era gangsters strolling around the farmers’ market, the Vilas Zoo or your local library branch—especially gangsters who occasionally belt out Broadway tunes.

But if you’ve been at some of these places in the last few weeks—or even Art Fair on the Square last weekend—chances are you may have seen exactly that. More specifically, what you saw was Brian Shutters and Fiorella Fernandez, the stars of Music Theatre of Madison (MTM)’s production of Bonnie & Clyde, opening this Friday in the Bartell Theatre.

This is the first time MTM artistic director Meghan Randolph has used public performance previews to promote a show, but in this case, she says the strategy fits the subject. After all, the real-life Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were notorious publicity hounds during their two-year crime spree of small-time robberies and murders—which is part of the reason we still remember and romanticize them today.    

“Historically, they weren’t all that careful,” says Randolph. “They liked the attention. They even spent time signing autographs.”

Shutters and Fernandez weren’t about the autographs in their several public appearances, but they did get into the experience. Shutters even spoke to people and answered questions in character. And the strategy seems to be paying off. Randolph says she noticed a spike in ticket sales after her stars appeared at the downtown farmers’ market.

“The most important part is getting people to hear the material. And when you have leads as pretty as we do, you use them.”

Coincidentally, a selection from the 2009 musical Bonnie & Clyde, composed by Frank Wildhorn, was also briefly featured in MTM’s last production, but not because the musical isn’t good. (It opened and closed on Broadway in 2011 after only sixty-nine performances). “There were a lot of timing issues that hurt the show. Plus, Broadway critics hate Frank Wildhorn,” says Randolph.

Wildhorn’s musical takes a few historical liberties with Bonnie and Clyde’s tale, but it’s significantly more accurate than the famous 1967 flick starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. MTM’s production aims to focus on the fact that Bonnie and Clyde’s reckless and deadly decision-making process had much to do with how young they were—both were in their early twenties when they died in a police raid in Louisiana.

“We don’t want them to come off as sympathetic or sociopaths,” says Randolph. “They were neither. They were very much a product of their time. We’re not excusing the horrible things they did, but the musical gets at some of the reasons why. You almost feel for them.”   

Bonnie & Clyde opens Friday, July 18, and runs through July 26. For ticket information, click here.