It’s set in America. It naturally follows there are guns: it’s their right to bear arms, y’see. The Bronco Billy of the show’s title (Tarinn Callender) heads up a troupe (his choice of word) that bears his own name and is themed around the Wild West, but – spoiler alert – none of them could credibly claim to have any cowboy experience. Billy was inspired by watching Western movies in his formative years in Brooklyn, and his travelling circus isn’t doing great – there’s nothing quite like live entertainment, but the troupe is barely getting by, evidenced by their rather basic dinners.
The set (Amy Jane Cook) is rather glitzy, with ceiling decorations that extend above the first few audience rows, and while the costumes (Sarah Mercade) are colourful and nice to look at, they are too shiny and pristine to belong to a company – sorry, troupe – with meagre resources who have apparently been going for years without new clothes or props. In other words, what they say about themselves isn’t what the audience sees. When disaster strikes the troupe, with no loss of human life, their lament didn’t feel convincing, and Doc Blue’s (Karen Mavundukure) rallying speech might have been more powerful, somewhat ironically, if there had been more resistance and more objections, as opposed to ‘okay, fine, we don’t have any ideas of our own, so we’ll just go along with yours’.
I’m not entirely sure when this production is set – there aren’t any mobile phones to be seen, although the plotline sees the troupe setting off for Hollywood as Billy is convinced they are going to win a televised talent contest of some kind. There are some glimpses of the troupe’s activities – Lasso Leonard James (a fresh-faced Josh Butler) spins his rope impressively, and Lefty Lebow (Henry Maynard) gets to look ten feet tall, or maybe more. But it never felt like one was ever watching ‘Bronco Billy’s Wild West Show’, perhaps because of the space limitations in the venue.
There are, at least, some wonderful singing voices to enjoy, not only from Callender’s Billy and Mavundukure’s Doc but also from Antoinette Lily (Emily Benjamin) and her stepmother Constance (Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, drawing hearty applause from the audience at the performance I attended, on account of a gloriously energetic, if hammy, song and dance). Benjamin and Hamilton-Barritt even sing whilst engaged in a duel. I don’t recall a single tune, however, and it doesn’t help that the show’s programme doesn’t bother providing a list of musical numbers. What I do remember are various encouragements to do your thing and pursue your dreams. There’s also a saccharine message about not forsaking one’s friends, a refreshing message in a world where loyalty is not always rewarded.
Some rather basic takeaway points then, and a predictable story. I’d have personally would have preferred more country-style songs than pop/rock ones in a musical about a Wild West travelling show (surely a harmonica would have presented a good opportunity for a bit of actor-musicianship), and a running gag about Sinclair St Clair’s (Alexander McMorran) name was unfunny the first time, let alone what felt like the twenty-third. Still, a hardworking cast make light work of some complex moves, and it’s always a delight to see actors enjoying themselves on stage.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Bronco Billy – The Musical is a rollicking new musical comedy based on the original Clint Eastwood motion picture.
It’s 1979 and life is tough for a group of romantic fast-drawing, trick-riding, disco-dancing Wild West roustabouts and their travelling show, but things take an unexpected turn when Bronco Billy (leader of this rag-tag troupe) meets Antoinette Lilly, a determined Manhattan heiress on the run for her life. So begins a wild, zany ride in this thrillingly upbeat musical about love, reinvention, family and living your dream.
Bronco Billy The Musical at Charing Cross Theatre