The legend of Robin Hood, a man who stole from the rich to give to the poor, has been passed down generations to today and remains an impressive tale. Moreover, the story of Hong Gil-dong who extorted the possessions of government officials has been enjoying popularity with Koreans since it was written by Heo Gyun, a writer of the Chosun Dynasty in Korea. While the actions of both protagonists were blatantly criminal, many people ironically consider them as heroes.
In this regard, such outlaws are sometimes glorified when their actions cause fascination to those who seek an escape from the mediocrity of their routine lives. It is much easier to find these attitudes in societies where social justice is viewed as failing to protect people. Such is the case of the popular musical, Bonnie and Clyde, which is set in America in the early 20th century. In the early 1930s in the U.S., when society was so corrupted and unreasonable that people turned their back on social morality, they grew fascinated with and sympathetic towards violent criminals such as gangsters. The musical is based on the true story of the couple, Bonnie Elizabeth Parker and Clyde Chestnut Barrow, who were notorious robbers in the 1930s. Within the miserable social environment of the U.S. at that time, they were deemed heroes who sought social justice.
A Way to Escape Hopelessness
The musical, Bonnie and Clyde is set in a significant time period from the late 1920s to early 1930s, when the actual couple lived. Even though the U.S. had achieved a high level of economic growth, the gap between the rich and the poor widened until the late 1920s. Since the concept of welfare had not been fully established socially, almost half the citizens in the U.S. suffered helplessly from poverty.
What was worse, the U.S. came to face the Great Depression unexpectedly in early 1930s. Even those who had managed to earn their living were hit so hard by the crisis that they became destitute. Before President Roosevelt introduced the New Deal policy in 1933, the national economy had stagnated and social morality had been growing increasingly corrupt.
The main characters, Bonnie and Clyde, grew up and lived within such a hopeless society. In this context, their crimes were interpreted as heroic actions as well as resistance to corrupt society. Although they committed crimes, being recklessly hot-blooded youth pursuing wealth, love, and fame, citizens considered them to be heroes rather than bank robbers who dreamed of escaping from their desperate cycle of poverty that many could sympathize with. Even now, despite their tragic ending, the world remembers Bonnie and Clyde as a righteous criminal duo of their time and icons of deviation.
Fiery Deviation Expressed by Music
One of the remarkable features of Bonnie and Clyde is how the message of righteous deviation is delivered without a detailed explanation about the historical context of the U.S. society at that time. Instead, the musical highlights humanity, such as the love between Bonnie and Clyde and the despair they suffered as a result of the gap between their ideals and reality, with typical “Frank Wildhorn style” music.
Frank Wildhorn, a well-known composer for a number of hit musicals, is loved for his style of impressing audiences with several explosive and showy songs in simple plots such as the song, “This Is the Moment” in the musical, Jekyll and Hyde. The Musical, an online magazine posted on Naver, a portal site, commented about his music, saying “He captivates the audience with a single song passionately and splendidly. His music is hot and fuelled, perfect for hot-headed Koreans whose emotions burst out like flames. Watching the play, the audience can release and vent out their feelings rather than just following a detailed plot.”
Not only do the songs provoke strong feelings from audiences but they actually seem to successfully justify and elicit understanding of Bonnie and Clyde’s dreadful crimes by emphasizing their humane aspects. One of the songs, “Will Tomorrow Come?” in parallel with actors’ slow motion movements, for instance, expresses Clyde’s sorrow, guilt, and pain from his unstoppable reality, receiving positive responses from audiences. Kwon Da-hee, a Senior in the Division of Economics at Hanyang University (HYU), commented, “Clyde’s song, “Will Tomorrow Come?” touched my heart by revealing his desperate and uneasy feelings over committing serious crimes. Before hearing the song, I thought he was just an ambitious criminal thirsty for wealth. However, he is successfully portrayed as being a wandering youth living in a hopeless time.” With the help of such touching melodies, Bonnie and Clyde are loved as daring, justified criminals.
Showing Effects to Deliver Pleasures of Deviation
In Bonnie and Clyde, there are several notable features highlighting the show’s main points. Photographs and newspaper articles of the real Bonnie and Clyde as well as their fellow gang members are shown in the background of the stage, matching with the scenes and poses of actors in the musical. Also, a fancy car on the stage and blindly fired gunshots add excitement for the audience. Such displays make the musical showier as well as the causing the audiences to immerse themselves into the story and feel as if they are escaping from their own daily routines along with Bonnie and Clyde.
Moreover, the showy effects convey the fancy and indulgent life of Bonnie and Clyde and glamorize their crimes to the audience through stimulation of the eyes and ears. Yeo Na-yoon, a Junior in the College of Policy Science at HYU said, “While I was startled at the unexpectedly loud sounds of gunshots several times, I was excited to watch Bonnie and Clyde’s crimes. Also, their robbery of cars and even banks are portrayed as not so serious or dreadful crimes. Rather, their actions are depicted as a kind of adventurous pleasure and deviation.”
Dreaming of Being Deviant
Deviance is something that people fear but want. For instance, one of the most compelling reasons why people love a story or a tale is that it fulfills dreams that they cannot reach and/or satisfies some parts of their unquenched pathological desires. In this regard, the story of Bonnie and Clyde enables audiences to depart from their routine lives, especially for those who feel they are suffering in a society currently experiencing social confusion. For instance, the true story of Bonnie and Clyde was the main focus of newspapers during the miserable 1930s, while the movie Bonnie and Clyde in the 1960s, when the Vietnam War caused social confusion in the U.S., also was very popular. With the current social mood in Korea, the musical Bonnie and Clyde is understandably popular with audiences who seek being deviant by escaping through entertainment that fascinates with stunning music and effects.