BRONCO BILLY THE MUSICAL

An heiress on the run finds an unexpected hideout and a unique new family of friends while being pursued by a gang of comic villains who can’t manage to shoot straight in the infectiously crowd-pleasing World Premiere musical Bronco Billy, quite possibly the most tuneful and entertaining L.A.-cast Broadway hopeful since Sister Act made its Pasadena Playhouse debut back in 2006.

Like nightclub chantoozie Deloris Van Cartier, candy bar heiress Antoinette Lilly (Amanda Leigh Jerry) has the misfortune to find her late-1970s life in jeopardy, though in Antoinette’s case it’s not a gangster boyfriend but a money-grubbing stepmother who wants her dead, the better to inherit the considerable fortune the recently deceased Sam Lilly (Anthony Marciona) has unceremoniously left his daughter.

Unlike Deloris, Antoinette (now known as Lily) finds her unanticipated new home, not with a cloisterful of singing nuns but with Bronco Billy (Eric B. Anthony) and his traveling Wild West Show.

Meanwhile, doing their darndest to first locate and then eliminate Lily are stepmother from hell Constance (Michelle Azar), greedy hubby John Arlington (Chris M. Kauffmann), evil family attorney Lawyer Lipton (Marc Cardiff), and disguise-loving hitman Sinclair St. Clair (Pat Towne), who’s as frustrated at not being able to seek and slay Antoinette as he is that folks can’t seem to get it in their heads that his last name isn’t the same as his first.

Book writer Dennis Hackin has cleverly tweaked the screenplay he wrote for the 1980 Clint Eastwood starrer (Constance is a welcome new addition) while retaining the movie’s great big heart and its colorful cast of supporting players including ringmaster Doc (Benai Boyd), Chief Big Eagle (Michael Uribes) and his wife Lorraine (Fatima El-Bashir), Two Gun Lefty Lebow (Randy Charleville), and Lasso Leonard James (Kyle Frattini).

Best of all, composer-lyricists Chip Rosenbloom and John Torres have filled Bronco Billy The Musical with song after song after song.* (I’d say about 75% of the show’s two-hour-plus-intermission running time is either sung or danced or both.)

Not only do Rosenbloom and Torres prove themselves masters of the catchy hook, they know the value of a reprise, ensuring that audiences will leave the theater humming “It’s Gonna Be Great,” “Ride With Us,” “I’m Gonna Be Strong,” and more.

New York-based Hunter Bird, just seven years out of UCLA, gives his Broadway elders a run for their directorial money, helming Bronco Billy The Musical’s World Premiere engagement with consummate skill and verve.

Not only that, but since BBTM debuts in the 75-seat Skylight rather than a thousand-plus-seat regional house, audiences get to appreciate Bird’s work and the production’s 79%-Equity cast up-close-and-personal from pre-show meet-and-greet to stand-up-and-cheer grand finale.

Broadway vet Anthony invests the title role with oodles of irresistible county charm and great-big vocals to boot, and rising L.A. musical theater star Jerry matches him every step of the way in the charm, song, and dance department.

Azar’s leggy, big-voiced, deliciously scenery-chewing Constance gives Susan Lucci a run for her villainous money, and the comic trio of Cardiff, Kauffman, and Towne do the same to Larry, Mo, and Curly.

Wild West Show stars Boyd, Charleville, El-Bashir, Frattini, and Uribes are as hilarious as they are colorful as they are triple-threat fabulous, with Frattini scoring bonus points for some impressive lasso twirling, and Bella Hicks (Mitzi), Marciona, and Jamie Mills (Dee Dee) are just as terrific in multiple roles each.

 Award-winning choreographer Janet Roston spices things up with one exhilarating dance number after another, from rodeo leaps to Studio 54 hustle, moves that look even better in Ann Closs Farley’s country-western-meets-circus-meets-disco costumes.

Musical director Anthony Lucca scores sky-high marks both for cast vocals and for conducting and playing keyboards in Bronco Billy’s ab-fab live band**, arrangements and orchestrations by music master David O.

Scenic designer John Iacovelli works his own magic with a stageful of Wild West Show shipping crates that open up to reveal countless surprises and reveal still others thanks to David Murakami’s ingenious projections, and Brian Gale’s lighting, Kevin Williams’ properties, Cricket S. Myers and Daniel S. Tator’s sound, and Matt Franta’s fight choreography merit just as many kudos.

Casting is by Michael Donovan, CSA. El-Bashir, Richie Ferris, Hicks, Molly Livingston, Kaufman, Mills, and James Olivas understudy lead and featured roles.

Ashley Felkner is company manager. Christopher Hoffman is production stage manager. Ben Altman and Garrett Crouch are stage managers.

Bronco Billy The Musical is produced by Gary Grossman and Tony Abatemarco. Danny Hackin is associate producer.

World Premiere musicals remain works in progress until (and sometimes even after) they make to Broadway, and Bronco Billy’s creative team were continuing to add new pages and songs all the way up to Opening Night, with doubtless still more tweaks to come once it completes its Skylight Theatre Company run.

Still, for this reviewer at least, this L.A. World Premiere is in as Broadway-ready shape as many a musical that’s had its out-of-town tryout at the Ahmanson or Old Globe, and SoCal theater lovers can celebrate that unlike all those New York visitors, Bronco Billy The Musical (like the Pasadena Playhouse’s Sister Act all those years ago) shows off home-based talent at their Broadway-competitive best.

I loved every second of Bronco Billy’s Wild West Show. Simply put, it’s L.A. musical theater at its rip-roaring best.

*additional lyrics by Michele Brourman
**Austin Chanu, Cyrus Elia, Jeff Frantom, Lucca, and Ryan McDiarmid

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Skylight Theatre, 1816 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. Through June 24. Fridays at 8:30. Saturdays at 2:00 and 8:30. Sundays at 2:00. Mondays at 8:00. Reservations: 213 761-7061
www.skylighttheatrecompany.com

–Steven Stanley
May 19. 2019
Photos: Ed Krieger

 

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