11th Hour takes on Bonnie & Clyde

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The South Philly-based theater company will present the Broadway musical through its Next Step Concert Series.

11th Hour’s Next Step Concert Series uses read-throughs and five-piece bands to boil lesser-known musicals down to their cores. (Photos by Daniel Kontz Photography/Special to South Philly Review)

Working with limited hours of rehearsal time, the South Philly-based 11th Hour Theatre company lives up to its title.

But the ephemeral practices exemplify the Whitman troupe’s Next Step Concert Series — a string of musical read-throughs that unravel lesser-known shows down to their core.

In its latest stripped-down performance, 11th Hour, which was the first-ever recipient of the June and Steve Wolfson Award for an Evolving Theater, is presenting “Bonnie & Clyde,” which premiered on Broadway in 2011 and featured music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Don Black and a book by Ivan Menchell. The show, which elevates the essence of the showtunes simply using staged readings accompanied by a small band, is running at the The Proscenium Theatre at the Drake from Jan. 5 to 13.

As a suspenseful piece following a pair of outlaw lovers, the show may not seem like a plausible candidate to be approached in an intimate setting.

But from a historical sense, the actual account of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who rampaged around the country during the Great Depression, may be illustrated more genuinely.

“I think what’s interesting — they were very glamorized or almost like put up to be these idols just from these newspaper articles,” said music director Gina Giachero. “Bonnie really wasn’t as flashy as everyone thought she was. So, it’s interesting, we’re just trying to get to the story of these people and how they met and all of these crazy things that they did without the pomp and circumstance.”

Getting down to the gritty and raw truths of these infamous figures mirrors the spirit of the Next Step Concert Series.

11th Hour, which was founded in 2005 by local thespians Michael Philip O’Brien, Megan O’Brien and Steve Pacek, built the Next Step Concert Series on a few philosophies.

Along with shedding light on “seldom-seen” musicals, the series strives to make theater accessible for both audiences and actors. By eliminating some spectacle, such as costumes and choreography, the staged readings allow shows to be affordable while also giving opportunity for local blooming performing artists.

“One of the things that’s been important to us was creating opportunities for young musical theater artists in town,” said Megan O’Brien. “And so, having this concert series, as opposed to only having a few shows a year that have a three- or four-person cast, we could do things that were larger that got us to be able to work with a lot of different people and kind of do some dream shows and do it in a way where we could put the story first and make it intimate and give wider access to those kind of things.”

When brainstorming shows for this season, Megan O’Brien found herself particularly moved by the themes of youth and desperation that surface in “Bonnie & Clyde.”

The show particularly lent itself to 11th Hour, because Bonnie and Clyde were in their early 20s amid their shenanigans.

And O’Brien says the troupe aims to feature rising actors from the area, as the artist playing Bonnie is a college student while the performer taking on the role of Clyde is a recent college graduate.

“Bonnie and Clyde’s age felt really important to me,” Megan O’Brien said. “I wanted to make sure it was a group of younger people.”

The entire cast, which is comprised of about a dozen individuals, only rehearses for about 25 hours before the start of each installment in the concert series. This is actually more than their prior schedule of about 20 hours of rehearsals.

Previously, the company worked under the Actors’ Equity Association contract for 29-hour readings, which gave them only 20 hours of preparation for each show with the other nine dedicated to the performances themselves.

While these abridged rehearsals may present challenges, they also offer a certain authenticity to the performance.

“I would say, it does really make everyone rely on themselves and their instincts and work together,” Megan O’Brien said. “In general, I like to think that the best ideas in the room kind of win no matter who it comes from or the one that feels the most right. And in a sense, (the series) brings out a lot of that. … In a sense, when you have too much time to think about stuff, you can get a little too much in your head and you don’t really have that option. It’s kind of like, you just all have to take a breath and a leap of faith together and make this whole thing happen.”

To find showtimes and purchase tickets to “Bonnie & Clyde,” visit https://www.11thhourtheatrecompany.org/bonnie-clyde/.