Friday, May 31, 2019

Review: Comedy is King in Bronco Billy - The Musical

Eric B. Anthony and Amanda Leigh Jerry. All photos by Ed Krieger

A singing cowboy tries to keep his Wild West show alive despite the cards being stacked against him in Bronco Billy – The Musical, a heartwarming musical comedy loosely based on the 1980 Clint Eastwood film. It’s a boisterous entertainment in the style of the old traveling western shows made popular by early twentieth century showmen like “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Moving from town to town, they appealed to one and all with their daring feats, rambunctious comedy, and good old-fashioned fun. So does this hot property.

The amiable homage is a little bit country and a little bit Broadway baby, with a big dose of disco fever thrown in for good measure. Bookwriter Dennis Hackin, who also wrote the screenplay for the film, has given his characters new back stories augmented for the stage while keeping a few key details in the mix. Billy (Eric B. Anthony) still harbors an important secret from his past but love interest Antoinette’s (Amanda Leigh Jerry) reason for joining Billy’s troupe is reconfigured into a screwball murder plot involving her flamboyant stepmother (Michelle Azar), crooked lawyer (Marc Cardiff), devious husband (Chris M. Kauffmann), and eccentric gun for hire (Pat Towne).

If she can stay alive for thirty days, Antoinette will inherit her deceased father’s (Anthony Marciona) fortune and the candy company that made him rich. But the only way to ensure that happens is for her to stay out of sight. Luckily, Billy and his struggling troupe provide just the cover she needs.

Composers Chip Rosenbloom and John Torres (additional lyrics by Michele Brourman) have created a lively score to go along with Hackin’s retooled story. Arrangements & orchestrations by David O give the production a bigger presence than most new musicals can boast right out of the gate. Vocals are strong and the five piece band led by musical director Anthony Lucca sounds terrific.

Director Hunter Bird uses two contrasting but complementary acting styles: naturalistic, which plays up the goofy charm in his misfit performers, and heightened, which allows his bumbling villains the melodramatic flair they need to make the show sizzle. When the two groups collide it means there’s plenty of comedy to be had, and the ensemble makes good use of every opportunity.

Randy Charleville, Eric B. Anthony, Amanda Leigh Jerry and the cast 

Perhaps the most impressive element of this world premiere however is Janet Roston’s personality-driven choreography. Her skill in choreographing to character is astonishing, and she can do it in any style on any size stage for any level of artist and make them shine. Whether she’s using a simple two-step to build a budding romance or creating a whopper of a production number to highlight every asset – and rodeo trick – the talented cast has in their back pocket, she succeeds in furthering the story through movement. It’s hard to describe but, in essence, it creates a physical arc to the show that transports you to a different place from where you started.

The same goes for the rest of the design elements. It’s delightful to watch John Iacovelli’s traveling tent show transform from a bunch of crates into a mansion, a gas station, a prison, a wagon, or the skyline when combined with David Murakami’s witty projections and Brian Gale’s lighting. The effects in Cricket S. Myers and Daniel S. Tator’s sound design are also stacked with jokes you’ll love in the moment, and Ann Closs Farley’s colorful costumes are as functional as they are fun.

Anthony makes an endearing romantic lead and Jerry an expressive ingénue. Azar’s “kill” song is a hilarious example of how to be over-the-top without becoming a caricature. Cardiff is the dancing clown you never knew you needed but now can’t do without, and Towne’s expert timing turns his joyfully childlike machinations into a subplot that deserves a spin-off of its own.

Pat Towne, Michelle Azar, and Marc Cardiff

Every show needs a utility player like Marciona who can morph from a silent (funny) portrait to a disco (funny) diva to an affected (funny) stage manager and nail every personality change no matter how absurd. Suffice it to say, the cast is having a great time and, because they are, so are we.

Yes, the story is a little thin and the second act could be tightened up in the next edit but, as a first outing, Bronco Billy is a likable new musical that will appeal to buckaroos of all ages. It’s got bells and whistles, romance, danger, and disaster, yet it never loses sight of its humanity, which can be summed up in a line Billy delivers during a touching moment, “Just because a man’s been dealt a bad hand doesn’t mean he should be out of the game.” Good words to remember in these trying times.

May 10 – June 30, 2019
Skylight Theatre
1816 ½ North Vermont, Los Angeles, CA  90027
Tickets and info: 213) 761-7061 or

Michelle Azar, Amanda Leigh Jerry, Pat Towne, Chris M. Kauffmann, and Marc Cardiff

Fatima El-Bashir, Randy Charleville, Eric B. Anthony, and Michael Uribes

Eric B. Anthony, Benai Boyd, Amanda Leigh Jerry, Randy Charleville, and Kyle Frattini

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