'Bronco Billy – The Musical' review – this new Wild West show is gloriously camp, colourful fun

Read our three-star review of Bronco Billy – The Musical, now in performances at the Charing Cross Theatre to 7 April.

Julia Rank
Julia Rank

Arriving in London as a fairly unknown quantity following a run in LA in 2019, Bronco Billy – The Musical is based on the 1980 Clint Eastwood comedy-drama of the same name. The show features a book by the film’s screenwriter, Dennis Hackin, and music and lyrics by pop songwriters Chip Rosenbloom and John Torres (with additional lyrics by Michele Brourman), and is directed by Hunter Bird, who helmed the LA production.

Pitched approximately as Annie Get Your Gun meets It Happened One Night plus disco dancing, it can’t be said that the show reaches any such heights. The broadness often makes it feels like an American pantomime as the troupe of plucky underdogs, a found family and veterans of an old-fashioned and struggling Wild West show, embark on their quest to strike it big in Hollywood, while the bad guys try to thwart them.

What imbues the production with something of substance is the sweetness of the leading man Tarinn Callender, who is like a younger version of the great Clive Rowe with his outstanding voice, relaxed charm, and glorious smile.

He is well matched with Billie Piper lookalike Emily Benjamin as plucky runaway candy heiress Antoinette Lilly. Having spent two years as a super swing and alternate Sally Bowles in Cabaret, this performance makes you wonder why Benjamin wasn’t given the part full-time. Together they’re a lovely pair and manage to imbue their characters with personality and a genuine connection.

As grasping widow Constance Lilly, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt is back to camping it up in wicked stepmother mode following her turns in Cinderella and Hex as a Joan Collins-type in a Margaret Thatcher-style wig, who briefly channels Edith Piaf with a torch song. This character more than any other is paraded on and off like a panto turn and Hamilton-Barritt knows how to milk it.

The show sits nicely in the Charing Cross Theatre and Amy Jane Cook’s nifty set design features a number of moving parts that revolve around the gang’s tour bus, which rotates to reveal a dressing room that’s patched up with old denim. Costumes by Sarah Mercade are appropriately camp, though wigs are questionable.

There is an unnecessary fussiness to some of Bird’s staging that results in props getting in the way. When Antoinette sings her first solo, a moving houseplant tries to upstage her.

Rosenbloom and Torres’s score is as substantial as candyfloss; there are some touches of country and bluegrass but otherwise it’s unremarkable musical theatre pop and the songs tend to feel underdeveloped. The highlight is Constance’s robotic step aerobics-style disco dancing number, showcasing Hamilton-Barritt’s flair for physical comedy.

Any drama that the original film might have had is replaced with broad comedy; the Vietnam War’s influence on the characters’ lives is only briefly mentioned. It doesn’t have anything more original to say than Billy’s mantra of “Follow your dreams” and be loyal to your friends, but it’s colourful fun, and the way in which it doesn’t take itself remotely seriously is no bad thing.

Bronco Billy – The Musical is at the Charing Cross Theatre to 7 April. Book Bronco Billy – The Musical tickets on London Theatre.

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Photo credit: Bronco Billy - The Musical (Photo by The Other Richard)

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