Bronco Billy The Musical

There have been more than a few Cowboy themed musicals gracing the London stages recently which poses the question… "Is this town big enough for another Wild West musical?" On the 31st January we went to investigate a new partner in town - Bronco Billy - to see if this southern spectacle would live up to the expectation or if the brand new buckaroo would buckle.

Under the arches at the Charing Cross Theatre, this pastiche musical is transporting audiences back to the late 70s and across the Atlantic ocean to the USA. By special arrangement with Warner Bros, this new show, written by Dennis Hackin is based on Clint Eastwood’s 1980 movie channelling 70s soaps with an entertaining, American sitcom-style script. 

Antoinette Lilly (Emily Benjamin), the daughter of a successful millionaire chocolatier runs away after her father’s death and joins a circus to get away from her evil stepmother (Victoria Hamilton-Barritt). The independent damsel meets circus troupe leader Bronco Billy (Tarinn Callender) and eventually they fall in love and solve their problems together.

The storyline itself leaves a lot to be desired, jolting through the tale of the touring performers at a rather uneven pace, not giving enough time for us to truly connect with the characters or understand the depth of their struggles.

The warmly received soundtrack included some boot-stomping, thigh-slapping numbers alongside several poignant ballads. The score and lyrics were created by the talents of Chip Rosenbloom and John Torres with additional lyric help from Michele Brourman and displayed some great new material with an array of genres.  Even though the songs were tuneful and memorable there were far too many, therefore ideally it would have been consolidated into a slightly more compact set list. More dialogue in-between the songs could have enhanced the storyline adequately instead of dispersing an unnecessary amount of musical outbursts with each character’s new thought or emotion. Here is a classic case of ‘less is more’.

The funky, fun costumes designed by Sarah Mercade stayed true to the 70s vibe, blending the old-fashioned, travelling circus theme without delivering tackiness. Overall the costumes were well suited to the show, however I would dare to upgrade to an even more eccentric wardrobe, especially for the leading lady Antoinette Lilly. The dull black suit in her opening song would have been considerably more exciting with an alternative, more flattering outfit.

The set was inventive, including a revolving trailer, adapting quickly to the 30 different scene changes! A highlight has to be the comedy chase scene in the ‘Hollywood’ studios which happens towards the end of the performance, but is worth the wait.

Illuminating the auditorium were large stars paired with blue spheres lit above and a mixture of stage lights and neon signs were used. There were multiple stage effects used throughout this production giving unexpected dynamics in the shape of sparks, gunshots and broken plates. 

It seemed the cast could have really benefitted with more rehearsal time, creating a seamlessness that was lacking this time with the props and costumes as some onstage mishaps occurred. It seemed as though it really was their first rodeo.

Credit where it’s due, the cast presented beautiful, powerful vocals all round. You could tell even before peeking in the programme that these were seasoned professionals. Rich tones escaped from the entirety of the performers, especially the title role played by Callender. Unfortunately I was missing connections between characters and the audience. The love story between the two leads had no history and popped up out of nowhere and we weren’t given enough backstory to feel deeply for any of the roles. 

Hamilton-Barritt was the show-stealing bandit with her highly amusing characterisations and onstage shenanigans. Her utterly captivating performance had us roaring with her farcical moments and playfully absurd affectations. The notable choreography by Alexzandra Sarmiento also added greatly to the piece, especially the hilarious disco section by Hamilton-Barritt’s charming character Constance.

The programme includes a quiz to keep the audience entertained during the interval which I found to be a unique and interactive detail. In addition, the same chocolate bars featured in the show are available to buy from the front of house staff. 

To round-up this rodeo, the performance lacked too much of the ‘wild’ for the wild west. We’re not totally caught in the lasso of this show yet, however the room enjoyed the high energy and abundance of disco flare. Bronco Billy has real potential to do well, it just needs refining with some tweaking and polishing.

This rootin’-tootin’ show fired lots of hits yet an equal amount of misses. It borders on pantomime in parts but is forgiven for this due to it’s creativity and charm.

This show was reviewed on the 31st January 2024.  Bronco Billy The Musical runs at the Charing Cross Theatre, London until the 7th April 2024.

Tickets available here: Bronco Billy | The all new Wild-West End Musical! | On Sale Now (broncobillymusical.com)

Review written by Lauren Atkinson

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Photo credit: The Other Richard

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