Yee haw, Cowboy! If you’re already rolling your eyes at that greeting, this review probably isn’t for you. But if you’re up for a rootin’ tootin’ good time, then read on partner. Bronco Billy has taken up residence under the Charing Cross arches, and he’s offering audiences a little slice of the American dream; assuming that your dream is a chaotic caper across the US with a cowboy inspired circus, crossed with a disco themed episode of Dynasty. Based on a Clint Eastwood movie, Bronco Billy –The Musical has followed its dream across the Atlantic, after an award-winning 2019 stint in Los Angeles. We hitched a ride on a wagon (ok, Southeastern train) to Charing Cross to check it out on Saturday.
Inspired by book writer, Dennis Hackin’s cowboy loving parents, who followed their own dreams from Chicago to Arizona, Bronco Billy is a tale about a travelling wild west show that has fallen on hard times. Billy (Tarinn Callender) may be the sharpest shooter in the land, but he barely has enough money to keep his show afloat, and he can’t seem to hang onto his glamorous assistants. Meanwhile in New York, newly installed candy tycoon, Antoinette Lily (Emily Benjamin) is trying to escape the clutches of a murderous stepmother (Victoria Hamilton-Barritt) who is hellbent on stealing her fortune. There’s only one thing a wealthy heiress can do in this situation, and that’s run away to join the circus, without telling any of your newfound friends about the vast wealth that would solve all their problems in a heartbeat. Together they embark on a journey to Hollywood, pinning all their hopes on an audition that will bring Bronco Billy’s Wild West Show the fame and fortune it deserves – just as long as hitman Sinclair St Clair (Alexander McMorran) doesn’t catch up with them first.
It’s a really fun show that doesn’t take itself too seriously; it’s brash and daft with a dollop of heart and a suitably saccharine message about following your dreams, however ridiculous. The book nicely weaves together the different plot points, and although you can see the twists coming from miles away, it’s still hugely enjoyable as a piece of light-hearted escapism. It’s not groundbreaking or profound but it doesn’t purport to be. What it does promise is feel good fun and it very much delivers on that front, chucking everything at the audience from circus skills and illusions (designed by master of magic, John Bulleid) to tap dancing and sword fighting. Amy Jane Cook’s set design is bright and bold, making brilliant use of a revolve to give a sense of adventure.
The songs (by Chip Rosenbloom and John Torres) are enjoyable enough in the moment, blending an eclectic mix of styles from disco to country, but there are rather too many of them. While the upbeat group numbers fare better than the solos (in part due to strong choreography from Alexzandra Sarmiento) much of the music is forgettable, despite brilliant performances from a truly top tier cast. Emily Benjamin is especially excellent as Antoinette, while Victoria Hamilton-Barritt steals every scene she’s in as comedy villain, Constance Lily.
Overall, Bronco Billy – The Musical is a loopy love letter to the American dream. It may not be high art but it’s an absolute hoot, so saddle up and lasso yourself a ticket to the wildest new musical in town.
Image credit: The Other Richard
Bronco Billy – The Musical plays at Charing Cross Theatre from 23 January to 7 April 2024. We received a complimentary press ticket to the matinee performance on 3 January.