Bronco Billy the Musical
Rating: ★★★
Venue: Charing Cross Theatre, London
Cast: Tarinn Callender, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, Emily Benjamin, Gemma Atkins, Jonathan Bourne, Josh Butler, Alice Croft, Chris Jared, Karen Mavundukure, Henry Maynard, Alexander McMorran, Aharon Rayner, Helen K Wint and Silas Wyatt-Barke 

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 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 follows the story of Antoinette Lilly, who finds out she is heiress to her father’s entire confectionary business after he dies. Her stepmother, bitter about being left nothing, sets out to invoke the 30-day clause. On the run, she meets Billy who takes her in and introduces her to his family, a rag tag group of performers at his travelling circus.

The musical loosely follows the movie of the same name, released in 1980 and directed and starred in by Clint Eastwood; but seems to cut a lot of plot detail to make the show an easy watch, and the story simple to follow. I haven’t seen the film, but researching into it after seeing the show I have uncovered huge chunks of storyline that are missing from the musical. From reading the detailed synopsis it seems that the film attempts to follow too many different paths all at once whereas the musical focuses on the main plot points. Given that I did feel that the first act was a little too long, I can’t imagine any of the cut moments adding anything to the story at all and would only serve to further drag it out. There was one song about 3⁄4 of the way through Act 1 that seemed the perfect closing number, which read a little strangely when the action continued, and then the curtain dropped at a seemingly arbitrary and much less effective moment. Act 2 was then significantly shorter, making me question the decisions around interval placement.

The first song was catchy, fun, and very cleverly written; a perfect opening number, getting me invested in the show from the top and bringing me alongside the characters. There is no doubt that Karen Mavundukure has some major pipes, absolutely blowing us away within the first 10 seconds. It actually almost made me wonder if coming in that strong would be leaving herself with anywhere to build to, but any time you catch yourself thinking that surely this is her pinnacle, she proves you wrong, taking it even further. For the unmeasurable amount of talent we got to witness on that stage, I’m genuinely not convinced that we’ve even scratched the surface on what she can really do. The opening number set the bar extremely high and the rest of the soundtrack kept it there, performed by musical director Marcus Carter-Adams and his band, unbelievably and with utter perfection.

It is worth noting that there were content warnings for haze, smoke and flashing lights posted around the theatre and this is not nearly sufficient for this production. The show contains live arms, sudden loud noises – including gunshots, pyro effects including fire and naked flame onstage, as well as themes of stalking, grief/loss, murder, as well as other traumatic themes. As well as the incomplete signs, I also found that there is no information at all on either the show or the theatres official websites, or the booking page. It is absolutely vital that this information is readily available and shared widely, and that all front of house staff are equipped with the information needed to answer any questions from the audience regarding content/trigger warnings for the show.

I thought the set design (by Amy Jane Cook) was absolute genius, simple yet expansive, while still fitting nicely inside such a small space without looking cluttered or detracting from the action at all. The technical production elements are vital to this show, Andrew Johnson’s sound design especially so, very cleverly using directional sound in a way that worked a lot better than I would have expected in such a small, poorly insulated venue. I also found Alex Sarmiento’s choreography to be like its own character, tied in with absolute precision.

Everyone’s stand out performance seems to be Victoria Hamilton-Barritt as Constance Lilly. Hamilton-Barritt is incredibly talented, I had the pleasure of seeing her open Cinderella on the West End, and she generally just blows me away in everything she does. Sadly, I didn’t think this character did her any justice. I could appreciate certain moments of humour but overall I found the character grating and irritating. I must say that my stand out performance came from Tarinn Callender with a voice as smooth as butter making every note feel effortless.

I found the whole show to be quite cliché and predictable, edging right up to the line between fun and ridiculous, but never quite crossing it. Overall Bronco Billy is a feel-good, fun night out. It felt like a cross between Annie Get Your Gun and Bonnie & Clyde, bringing the best bits from two widely loved classics into a more contemporary light.

You can book tickets to see Bronco Billy at the Charing Cross Theatre, here.

Review by Rachel Sarah Leveney

**photo credit to The Other Richard**

No comments