Bonnie & Clyde at Sunderland Empire is a so good it should be illegal smash as superb cast shine

Sunderland is happily harbouring a pair of criminals this week as Bonnie & Clyde take over the Empire and, if delivering an exhilarating, effortlessly cool, electrifying performance is a crime, they’d be well and truly banged to rights.

When a show makes the switch from the West End to the road it sometimes takes a while for it to find its feet, but that is not a problem this show needs to worry about, as the winner of the What’s On Stage award for Best New Musical 2023 is firing on all cylinders on Wearside, with a superb and scintillating score, a punchy and powerful script and a leading pair who ooze passion from every pore and could not be anymore captivating if they tried.

The tale of a couple of notorious outlaws, is definitely not in the realms of witches, big name divas or the French revolution when it comes to musical theatre, but it’s proved to be the springboard for a hell raiser of a show, which requires zero gimmicks, pyrotechnics or confetti cannons to hit the target.

READ MORE: Catherine Tyldesley lands ‘gift’ of a role for musical debut in Bonnie & Clyde

Get all the latest TV and showbiz news and gossip from Chronicle Live with our free newsletter..

In the titular roles of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, Katie Tonkinson and Alex James-Hatton have chemistry that goes from a simmer to a scorcher in the matter of a few scenes, with both leads utterly fantastic from the get-go. Katie goes through the gears in fine fashion, as the playful optimism of Bonnie gives way to a much more ruthless side, fuelled by her obsessive love for criminal handsome stranger Clyde.

A mighty fine performer, Katie gives a first taste of her vocal chops in opener Picture Show, before making the spotlight her own in How About a Dance and duetting with the tremendous Oonagh Cox on You Love Who You Love, which for me, might just might be the top trump of what is a stunning soundtrack, with Don Black’s lyrics really getting to the heart of the relationships and very real struggles played out on screen.

Opposite Kate as Clyde is the equally mesmerizingly good Alex. Cocky, cool and confident with raw vocal tones, Alex pitches his portrayal of Clyde to perfection, exuding charm, swagger and rock star energy with every move and every bar of every song he sings, like the instant ear worm When I Drive, but also channelling every ounce of pain and anger experienced by Clyde at the start of the pulsating Raise A Little Hell, when he’s flung behind bars for a 16 year stretch.

In Katie and Alex, Bonnie & Clyde has got itself two leads that are deserving of every single ovation that is sure to come their way; with the whole cast helping to make the production one that blows your socks off and leaves you wanting to see it again as soon as possible.

Deputising for the absent Catherine Tyldesley on press night, as Blanche, Oonagh gave one of the finest cover performances I’ve ever seen in a theatre stage, bringing passion and power to the role of a woman who desperately tried to stay on the right side of the tracks, despite everyone around her, including husband Buck, doing the exact opposite.

As well as aforementioned emotional juggernaut You Love Who You Love, Oonagh displays her vocal prowess to great aplomb on Now That’s What You Call A Dream, with her often fraught and frantic scenes with on screen husband Sam Ferriday (Buck) truly compelling. Sam delivers the part of a man torn between his love for his wife and loyalty to his wayward brother with real conviction from beginning to untimely end, delivering an emotional sucker punch in his final scenes.

In a cast full of fine vocalists, Jaz Ellington is a force of nature as the Preacher, with him demanding attention from opening bar to final high note in every song he sings. His voice really needs to be heard in the flesh to be appreciated in all its octave hitting glory.. 10/10, no notes whatsoever.

And Daniel Reid-Walters is terrific at conflicted cop Ted Hinton, who is determined to win Bonnie’s affections and protect her best interest, while also trying to bring her and Clyde to justice.

Very much a play set to music, rather than your typical musical, Bonnie & Clyde has grit, it has heart, it has turmoil and it has power.

A stellar cast, an at times understated yet emphatic score, which takes inspiration from everything from jazz to country, and with a riveting real life story at its centre, Bonnie & Clyde is a so good it should be illegal smash hit.

On the charge of being completely bowled over? Guilty, your honour..

Chronicle Live – Sunderland