Tag Archives: Karen Mavundukure

“Bronco Billy” at the Charing Cross Theatre

It’s hard not to like this feelgood musical written by Dennis Hackin and based on his film from 1980. Its focus on a “chosen family” and the idea of following your dreams make it tough to knock. The scenario of show people – these ones have a Wild West-themed act – fits happily on stage and the whole evening is entertaining.

The story follows the titular performer and his troupe, joined by a chocolate heiress, Antoinette Lily, who is on the run. The action is simpler than it sounds and just quirky enough to pique interest. The characters work because they are sweet rather than complex and provide strong leading roles that Tarinn Callender and Emily Benjamin make look easy.

Tarrin Callender and Karen Mavundukure

The trick is to have us like the gang. Both stars excel at this. There’s isn’t really much peril for Antionette Lily – she’s smart, has heavily armed friends and there’s a lot of money in confectionary. But Benjamin and Callender make us care about her. They are aided by strong work from Karen Mavundukure as the show’s (slightly wasted) master of ceremonies and Josh Butler as the group’s youngest member. There are no surprises, but it is sweet. Who doesn’t love a misfit with a lasso?

Victoria Hamilton-Barritt

The comedy could be improved (it probably will be during the run). The men out to do Antoinette in don’t have good gags. Slapstick moments are a little too ambitious, the set looks perilous at times, and director Hunter Bird needs to rely less on slo-mo. But Bronco Billy has a secret weapon when it comes to laughs – the show’s wicked stepmother who is out to get that chocolate money! Played by Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, the role has the best number, the best outfits and the best moves and is milked shamelessly.

The music and lyrics, by Chip Rosenbloom and John Torres (additional lyrics by Michele Brourman) all work well. Again, it’s all simple and lacks adventure. The mix of country and western and disco, coming from the 1979 setting, has a potential not fully explored. But every song is effective: well-constructed, purposeful and pleasant. The sentimental numbers are strongest – a couple might have a chance of sticking. It’s all careful and takes care to please.

There’s a lot of love behind Bronco Billy (the show has been in development for a long time). A passion for performing is winning, likewise the theme of family. While silliness is embraced, the central romance ends up believable and the happy ending feels… deserved! If Billy’s cowboy code, full of self-help quotes, is sickly sweet, the show is confident enough not to mind. After all, his inspiration comes, literally, from a chocolate bar.

Until 7 April 2024


Photos by The Other Richard

“The Color Purple” from the Curve Leicester

In his introductory remarks to this new online version of a 2019 revival staged with the Birmingham Hippodrome, the Curve’s artistic director Nikolai Foster hopes the production inspires and uplifts the audience. Taking on the task, director Tinuke Craig has achieved exactly that – 100 per cent!

Adapted from Alice Walker’s novel, the Tony award-winning musical sounds fantastic. The singing here is superb, and the score, from Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, is interesting and intelligent. Staged in the round, the play’s sensitive filming allows us to take in strong acting and appreciate Mark Smith’s choreography. Craig combines all this to give us “a story to believe in” that won’t leave a dry eye in your house.

The lead characters, with their difficult lives, aren’t easy to portray. Celie’s self-sacrifice, as her children are taken from her and she endures horrific domestic abuse, is hard to watch. But, taking the role, T’Shan Williams expresses pain and anger through song with incredible power – the range in her singing is awe-inspiring. Celie’s whip-wielding husband, Mister, is relentlessly awful, with Ako Mitchell suitably repellent in the role. Casting vanity aside, his redemption is a strong companion to Celie’s. In the scene of Mister’s breakdown, Mitchell has a raw power that is breath-taking.

Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah, Danielle Kassarate and Landi Oshinowo
Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah, Danielle Kassarate and Landi Oshinowo

While Celie’s life is full of trauma, there’s humour in The Color Purple. Plenty comes from the gossiping church ladies, a brilliant trio performed by Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah, Danielle Kassaraté and Landi Oshinowo, who have some of the most adventurous musical moments. And while the story of Celie’s stepson and his wife Sophia is troubled, their relationship contains laughs as well as passion and is portrayed marvellously by Simon-Anthony Rhoden and Karen Mavundukure – I could have watched both all night.

Handling relief in such a powerful story is tricky. But the show needs light… and colour. This is most clearly revealed in the joy that surrounds the character of Shug Avery. With yet another magnificent performance, from Carly Mercedes Dyer, the blues singer who both Mister and Celie fall in love with becomes a sage who holds the key to Celie’s future. Dyer’s portrayal convinces, while her powerful singing commands. And Shug and Celie have one of the best love songs there is.

The finale reveals how well structured the show is, Marsha Norman’s book prepares us for emotion and T’shan Williams excels in delivering it. It is Celie’s journey of self-discovery that makes the show so powerful. I had goosebumps for the last 20 minutes. Acknowledging the beauty in herself and the world, Celie comes to accept her sexuality and her religion in an inspiring and uplifting fashion that, fittingly, ends with a prayer.

Until 7 March 2021


Photos by Manuel Harlan