Bronco Billy – The Musical ★★★ Charing Cross Theatre | Jan 24 - Apr 7, 2024

It's 1979 and Bronco Billy's impoverished Wild West show is on the ropes. The only hope seems to be to drive across America and enter a talent contest in Hollywood. At the same time, Antoinette Lily has just inherited her late father's fortune from his candy bar business. Unfortunately for her, the will specifies that if she dies within thirty days of her father, her evil stepmother will receive all the money. In order to escape the latter's murderous intentions, Antoinette is forced to go on the run, joining Bronco Billy's entourage in their cross-country odyssey. These complications all lead to a lot of uninspired foolishness: the jokes are too often familiar and the plot is rather plodding. The madcap craziness that should delight an audience in a good farce isn't really captured. With scenery that follows the character around and various intentional miscues, the production sometimes recalls "The Play That Goes Wrong" franchise, and for fans of that genre the whole thing might work, but it just left us longing for the comic genius of a Mel Brooks. The love story between Billy (Tarinn Callender) and Antoinette (Emily Benjamin) lacks the romantic chemistry that is necessary even in a farce, and it is difficult to care about whether these two end up together or not. However, both bring powerful voices to their performances, and Callender's rendition of "I'm Gonna Be Strong" is terrific. The standout performance is definitely that of Victoria Hamilton-Barritt as Constance, the evil stepmother. She pulls out all the stops in a wonderfully wacky impression that echoes Cruella de Vil, and her big disco number is the highlight of the show. Amy Jane Cook's set is clever and makes great use of the space. Full points also to Nick Richings for his atmospheric theatre lighting. Although Bronco Billy doesn't always hit its target, it does have some appealingly manic moments.

Rated: ★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by The Other Richard

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