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Bronco Billy the Musical

  • Theatre, Musicals
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Bronco Billy, Charing Cross Theatre, 2024
Photo: The Other Richard

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

Joyous, madcap musical reinvention of the cult Clint Eastwood film

What’s that you say? You want a show about cowboys that’s also a soap opera, which also involves disco? And you want it to be one of the year’s best new musicals? Well, slap my thigh and roll up to ‘Bronco Billy’.

Adapted by Chicago-born writer Dennis Hackin from his own 1979 film, it’s inspired by his parents, who always wanted to be cowboys. It sees a down-on-their-luck troupe of Wild West entertainers head to Hollywood for an audition they hope will transform their fortunes. They’re accompanied by a chocolate company heiress (in disguise) and pursued by her slimy husband, murderous stepmother, a lawyer and a hitman.  

Director Hunter Bird takes the late-’70s setting and runs with it, casting its madcap caper vibe in bright colours and every orange of beige. It’s a beautifully pitched, disco-ball reflection of an era of TV and film, complete with great practical effects and some genre-bending choreography, which feels new and unique. The revolving set also sees the troupe’s van becoming a ramshackle character in its own right.

It's all anchored by the well-balanced mix of sweetness and saltiness in Hackin’s script, which is both a sly wink to its inspirations and a touching ode to family wherever you find it, as well as some stupidly catchy songs by Chip Rosenbloom and John Torres. These provide the connective tissue that holds the production’s mash-up of genres together, from telling a love story to revelling in arch soap opera excess.

The latter is grabbed with both hands by Victoria Hamilton-Barrett, as stepmother Constance Lily, wearing the kind of wig that deserves its own spin-off series and an Emmy award. Somehow channelling Liza Minelli by way of all the best Joans – Cusack’s psychopathic black widow in ‘The Addams Family Values’ and Collins’s Alexis Carrington in Dynasty – she tears through scenes like a deliriously fun tornado. She imbues every song with charisma to spare.  

But no one’s lumbered with the thankless ‘straight’ role in this colourful line-up. Tarinn Callender brings abundant heart as ex-army vet Bronco Billy, the big-dreaming but hopeless businessman ‘father’ to his family of misfits; as secret heiress Antoinette, who helps to turn the troupe’s fortunes around, Emily Benjamin shades in her character arc with a hint of prickle and a mean left hook; as Billy’s no-nonsense right-hand woman, Doc Blue, Karen Mavundukure’s singing voice could power the London train network; while Josh Butler is sweetly clueless as an ex-car thief.

Charing Cross Theatre has a hit on its hands. This joyful piece of storytelling, brilliantly performed by its cast, succeeds in being both sincere and funny. Not one thing or another, but entirely its own thing, it deserves to keep on travellin’ in London for a long while yet.

Written by
Tom Wicker


£18-£38. Runs 2hr 30min
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