Sometimes, silly is all that a show needs to be.
Such is the case with “Bronco Billy: The Musical” at the Skylight Theatre in Los Feliz. Wholly embracing its preposterousness, this sprightly, enjoyable show is a huge improvement on its source: a humorless, casually sexist 1980 movie from Clint Eastwood’s ill-considered comedy phase.
The musical exists because Dennis Hackin, the movie’s writer and co-producer, has a soft spot for the story, in which people follow their dreams and carry the cowboy code of honor into the present day. Roughly 16 years of work — with the Skylight involved for the last 2½ — are wrapped into this presentation.
Theatergoers enter to find the stage swathed with colorful, tent-like fabric, signaling that they’ve entered Bronco Billy’s traveling Wild West show. A ringmaster — or ringmistress, in this case — asks us “little pardners and big buckaroos” to relax into our seats while the troupe acts out a story. No realism here, folks, just tent-show escapism.
Set in 1979, the story is a collision of genres and lifestyles. Sharpshooting Bronco Billy and his financially strapped show cross paths with a stranded heiress who decides to disappear for a while as her family schemes against her.
Rather than the flighty object of desire who gets manhandled by Billy in the movie, Antoinette Lily — played by Amanda Leigh Jerry — is a no-nonsense type who initiates show improvements. Though asserting his place as “head ramrod,” Billy, played by Eric B. Anthony, is also a gentleman who’s not afraid to show his feelings.
While these two are caught up in attraction-repulsion, the story’s villains are busy trying to commandeer Antoinette’s inheritance. The baddies are the show’s comic engine, especially Antoinette’s gold-digging stepmother (Michelle Azar, who seems to be channeling “Kiss of the Spider Woman”-era Chita Rivera) and a hired assassin (Pat Towne, whose cornucopia of hammy tropes includes lots of inept Inspector Clouseau).
Country filigrees are sometimes heard, but the music is mostly pop, with touches of soul and a bit of tango, plus a whole lot of disco. The songs are by Chip Rosenbloom and John Torres, with additional lyrics by Michele Brourman.
Director Hunter Bird and a cast of 14 keep the tone playfully artificial, but the material, cotton-candyish as it is, manages to tug at the heartstrings with its notions about dreamers intent on making their lives — and, possibly, the world — a little bit better.
Where: Skylight Theatre, 1816½ N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz
When: 8:30 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; ends July 21
Info: (866) 811-4111, skylighttheatre.org
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes