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Entertainment & Arts

Review: A fun ‘Bronco Billy’ roams the Wild West to a disco beat

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Eric B. Anthony, center, is the title Wild West show star and Amanda Leigh Jerry, right, his would-be love interest in “Bronco Billy: The Musical.”
(Ed Krieger)

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.

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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).

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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.

Behind the scenes, the project is packed with all-stars: John Iacovelli (sets), Ann Closs-Farley (costumes), David O (arrangements and orchestrations) and Janet Roston (choreography).

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.

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‘Bronco Billy’

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

Tickets: $29-$55

Info: (866) 811-4111, skylighttheatre.org

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Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

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Eric B. Anthony and Amanda Leigh Jerry in attraction-repulsion mode.
(Ed Krieger)


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