Making its UK premiere following a pre-pandemic debut in Los Angeles, Bronco Billy The Musical comes to London’s Charing Cross Theatre, providing audiences with undeniable joy filled escapism.
It’s based on the comedy motion picture directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. The film itself wasn’t hugely successful, and Eastwood’s comedy career isn’t fondly remembered. But apparently screenwriter Dennis Hackin believed in the story, adapting it for the stage with the help of Chip Rosenbloom and John Torres who penned the music and lyrics.
The titular Billy leads a travelling circus, which includes Lasso Leonard James (Josh Butler), Lefty Lebow (Henry Maynard), Doc Blue (Karen Mavundukure), plus married couple Joe and Lorraine (Aharon Rayner and Helen K Wint).
Running away to join the circus (if only temporarily) is chocolate bar heiress, Antoinette Lily who needs to disappear for thirty days, or face being murdered by her husband and step-mother who have their own plans for her inheritance.
Bronco Billy The Musical revels in the art of not taking itself too seriously, it’s camp, colourful and a whole lot of fun. But it has heart too; the travelling troupe of performers, who have nothing else in the world, have become a family, fiercely loyal and protective of each other.
As you would expect there’s romance too, but ultimately this is a story about looking out for each other, following your dreams, and good triumphing over evil. The evil comes in the form of Constance, played with glorious pantomime villainy by Victoria Hamilton Barrit; imagine Margaret Thatcher in an episode of Dynasty!
It harks back to days of the Frontier and depression era America, though is set in the latter part of the last century. Scenes that involve the whole troupe are always enjoyable, and there are plenty of circus style tricks to spice things up. Most impressive is Amy Jane Cook’s set design, dominated by a rotating tour bus, which serves as both stage and backstage for the players.
Tarinn Callender leads the cast as Billy, it’s a superb performance that really gets under the skin of this orphan turned cowboy, and comes with a gorgeous vocal performance too. Opposite Callender is Emily Benjamin as Antoinette, again, Benjamin brings nuance to the role and really captures the audience’s attention with more powerful vocals.
You’ll hear a touch of Country in the score, but in the main it’s musical theatre pop tunes, with a good few ballads and comedy songs thrown in too. They all sound great, especially the opening number which returns as a recurring motif. The audience were clearly lapping it all up and there could easily be a cast album come out of this.
The final scene perhaps sums up Bronco Billy The Musical; a frantic and madcap adventure, that serves as a tribute to the original movie, and other films of the era. Bronco Billy is a funny and uplifting show that truly takes its audience on a wild ride.