Tag Archives: Alexander McMorran



Charing Cross Theatre

BRONCO BILLY – THE MUSICAL at Charing Cross Theatre


“it has the thrill of a fairground ride that plants an irresistible smile on our faces as we bravely hang on”

Welcome to the Wild West. It’s not a place on the map, but a place in your heart – or rather Bronco Billy’s heart. A world that tells you that you don’t belong, you ‘gotta’ be strong, and never give up on your dreams. You can be anything you want. Or so it seems. But just in case you missed the greeting card message, it is repeated in verse, prose, rhythm and rhyme many a time over the next couple of hours.

Billy (Tarinn Callender) is a Brooklyn born go-getter, reinvented as a gun-slinging, gun-toting, gun-firing cowboy. A damaged Vietnam veteran he conceals his purple heart, but wears his real one on his sleeve. And it turns out his heart is as big as his personality. Callender is immensely likeable and engaging as the leader of his rag-taggle travelling troupe, performing their Wild West show across America. Part vaudeville, part circus, and wholly chaotic, these cowboys are as ramshackle as the tour bus that is their home.

It is difficult to place them in time. We could be on the frontier in the seventeenth century, or in the depression era of the 1920s, but a casual reference to Margaret Thatcher’s rise to power across the pond places us firmly in 1979. Likewise, Chip Rosenbloom and John Torres’ score wanders the wheat fields and Hillbilly highways in search of a hook; visiting the Grand Ole Opry before rocking up in the disco hostels of the Village People. And we’re back in the seventies. It’s a bumpy ride for sure; coherence hanging by a thread and plausibility in tatters. Yet it has the thrill of a fairground ride that plants an irresistible smile on our faces as we bravely hang on.

Based on the 1980 Clint Eastwood comedy-drama, original scriptwriter Dennis Hackman has adapted and updated the story for the stage, enlisting Rosenbloom and Torres, with additional lyrics courtesy of Michele Brourman. Billy and his company are en route to Hollywood chasing their dream opportunity. But back in New York chocolate heiress Antoinette Lily (Emily Benjamin) is running for her life from her family who have thirty days to make sure she is dead and buried so they can commandeer her inheritance. The two meet by chance at a gas station. Antoinette changes her name to Lily Rose and joins the travelling show and they embark on a will-they-won’t-they romance. The pantomime villains are in hot pursuit led by the wicked stepmother Constance (Victoria Hamilton-Barritt) and hired hitman Sinclair St Clair (Alexander McMorran).

“What draws the most attention are the vocal performances, which is where the principals shine”

Hunter Bird’s upbeat production is as pacey as they get, but somehow feels laboured, not quite sure in which direction it is heading. Stumbling on slapstick and tripping up on clichés that roll like tumbleweed across the dusty terrain towards its predictable finale. Overacting is the keyword, with Hamilton-Barritt, surprisingly, the main culprit. The sideshow players are more nuanced, most notably Karen Mavundukure’s powerhouse ringmaster Doc Blue, and triple threat Helen K Wint as Lorraine who keeps one step ahead of the rest.

What draws the most attention are the vocal performances, which is where the principals shine. Benjamin and Callender – both in fine voice throughout – have the range and refinement to carry the show, culminating in some magical duetting. Hamilton-Barritt delights with some villainous crooning. It is clear that the performers are all having a ball and eventually the audience are infected with the tongue-in-cheek glee that springs from the stage. The second act cranks up the gears, aided throughout by Amy Jane Cook’s revolve set design, centring on the tour bus: a life size box of tricks, ever changing and opening up to reveal the many locations; from the fields of Kansas to the plush New York interiors to the Hollywood film lots.

As ramshackle as Bronco Billy’s Wild West Show, the musical shares Billy’s dreams and ambitions. Like the journey he leads us on, it is a bit of a tough ride, but let’s hope the show doesn’t give up on those dreams. It will get there eventually.

BRONCO BILLY – THE MUSICAL at Charing Cross Theatre

Reviewed on 31st January 2024

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by The Other Richard




Previously reviewed at this venue:

SLEEPING BEAUTY TAKES A PRICK! | ★★★★ | November 2023
REBECCA | ★★★★ | September 2023
GEORGE TAKEI’S ALLEGIANCE | ★★★★ | January 2023
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY | ★★★★ | November 2022
RIDE | ★★★★★ | August 2022
PIPPIN | ★★★★ | July 2021



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Come From Away

Come From Away

Phoenix Theatre

Come From Away

Come From Away

Phoenix Theatre

Reviewed – 18th February 2019



“truly unique and remarkable”


Telling the true story of what happened to the small town of Gander, Newfoundland in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Come From Away finally receives its triumphant UK premiere. 

The show, with book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein was first produced in Ontario in 2013 and has since had record breaking runs in San Francisco, Seattle, Washington and Toronto. Opening on Broadway in 2017 it is now the longest running Canadian musical there and it’s not difficult to see why.

September 11th 2001, for reasons at first unknown to those in the sky, American airspace is suddenly closed to all traffic. Planes are diverted with thirty eight of them having to land at Gander Airport, more used to seeing no more than half a dozen landings a day. With the population of the town almost doubling within a few hours, every resident springs into action to help out in whatever way they can.

An outstanding ensemble cast of twelve play the townsfolk, passengers and crew. With one hundred minutes continuously onstage they effortlessly deliver some challenging songs in a variety of styles and perform clever choreography (Kelly Devine) whilst simultaneously flitting between several characters.

With a visually stunning, yet minimal set design (Beowulf Boritt) we’re transported from jumbo jet to bar, Dover Fault to cargo hold, all with little more than a dozen chairs, a few tables and some impressive lighting (Howell Binkley).

The phrase ‘rollercoaster of emotion’ is often overused, but for once it seems perfectly fitting. In Come From Away we witness love, prejudice, grief and joy – one minute the audience are laughing out loud, the next, wiping away a tear.

The devastating events of 9/11, one of the darkest moments in American history, may not initially seem like the best choice, or even an appropriate one, for a musical. But this isn’t a history lesson – the terrorist incidents themselves do not form the basis of the show, in fact they are barely directly mentioned – this is a story about kindness and the proof that evil will never succeed in breaking human spirit even in the darkest depths of adversity.

Throughout previews, the show has had standing ovations nightly – immediate ones from the whole audience. What’s more, most of the audience even remain for the play out track possibly because we get to see the hugely talented band who have spent most of the night tucked away in the wings.

A truly unique and remarkable show which I hope gets the audiences it deserves.


Reviewed for thespyinthestalls.com

Photography by Matthew Murphy


Come From Away

Phoenix Theatre until 14th September


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Chicago | ★★★★ | April 2018


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