Saturday, June 1, 2019

Bronco Billy: The Musical (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

A young orphan from a cold, unfeeling situation finds themselves an heir to a fortune, and thrust into a place full of strangers.  In this this orphan finds real friends for the first time, and eventually love, as they learn new things.  In the end, the orphan's new family saves the orphan's life, even as the orphan saves them.

No, this is not Harry Potter.  It turns out to be Bronco Billy: The Musical, based upon the movie which starred Clint Eastwood and his then-paramour Sandra Locke.  Perhaps you remember seeing the film when it came out?  Not a bad show, not at all.  But--in the form of a stage musical this story found its proper milieu.  The movie may have been fun, but the whole thing works so much better live, with song and dance, and without the kind of precise realism at which film achieves so well.

The story certainly fits into what we expect from most musicals.  Bronco Billy's Wild West Show is a traveling show in the American West during the late 1970s.  Something about that period feels right but not necessarily essential.  Members of the company are weary, since their dream is fading.  Everything is breaking down.  They cannot afford to fix things.  Nobody has been paid for months.  Then, a random meeting changes everything.

Credit: Ed Krieger
Antoinette Lilly (Amanda Leigh Jerry), heiress to a candy bar fortune now that her beloved father has died, came to Kansas to spread his ashes.  Along the way her sleazy husband John (Chris M. Kauffmann) tries ineptly to murder her.  He even blabs the truth--he is in cahoots with her stepmother Constance (Michelle Azar), because if Anoinette dies within 30 days the entire fortune goes to her instead.  The young woman decides she needs to disappear for a month, and as it happens Bronco Billy (Eric B. Anthony) is looking for an assistant in his act.  Kismet!  Karma!  Fate!  Call it what you will, amid this group of bohemians she at first sticks out like a sore thumb.  But then, she becomes part of them, enjoying her time, giving suggestions that improve the show.  Along the way, she finds a real home, a genuine family, and in the person of Bronco Billy himself, true love.

Credit: Ed Krieger
The songs pretty much make the themes and ideas of the show about as explicit as one can ask.  "Ride With Us" is a recurrent song, inviting the audience to come with the troupe and live their own dream.  "When Everything is Real" is an anthem of hope, of living without lies and trusting others, especially if you find someone to love who in turn loves you.  That Bronco Billy's troupe is full of people who've been hurt and down emphasize this.  Lasso Leonard James (Kyle Frattini) was trying to steal the troupe's truck when he joined the group.  Lefty (Randy Charleville) is a former bank robber, who met Billy when they were both is prison (the latter when his wife accused him of trying to kill her when he walked in on her adultery).  Doc (Benai Boyd) is a former nurse, who now walks with a cane, and who functions as the glue holding the troupe together.

So when you think on it, Antoinette really does fit it--the orphan who doesn't believe in herself, on the run from a so-called family who wants to kill her for money.

Credit: Ed Krieger
But more--and more than the good songs, the consistently fine performances, the clever staging, the general paraphernalia of the musical--it is how the hint we all belong here, we are all misfits looking for a home, for family, for love that gives this show its power.  Silly?  Maybe, compared to the most gritty of real world details.  But a joke works because you laugh, not because it works as some kind of journalistic history file.  A song lifts your heart not by proving as accurate as a math equation.  Just as a story can give comfort, nurture hope, bring a smile to a sad face, a tear to an eye that needs to cry. 

And that is what this show does.  It is fun.  It gives no vast insights into the ambiguity of the human condition (although I love stuff like that).  Rather it breathes on the embers of flames we sometimes need.

Bronco Billy: The Musical plays 8:30pm Fridays and Saturdays, 2:00pm Saturdays and Sundays through June 30, 2019 at the Skylight Theatre (at the end of the alley) 1816 ½ North Vermont
Los Angeles, CA. 90027 (right next to Skylight Books).

No comments: