What if Billy The Kid was actually a child? That’s the over-riding premise of the National Youth Music Theatre (NYMT) production that’s ridden into town and has saddled up at Curve’s studio until Saturday August 26th.
We first meet Billy, played by Ben Lewis, in a modern day Stateside classroom. He’s an awkward loner, a misfit who’s bullied about his size and his lack of sporting prowess. He’s also a pre-pubescent 13 year old angel with the ability to sing like a choirboy and to dance like Bruce Forsyth once did. An all-round entertainer with a cherubic face, the kid will go far.
Before we know it, a school lesson about the Wild West has set Billy’s imagination off and running. The scene transforms to a bar where cowboys, outlaws and their molls down root beer and play poker whilst having a hoedown. Each of the characters in this dreamland are transported from their modern day college setting. Anarchy doesn’t exist here because order is maintained and dubious deals are struck by Colonel J. Murphy (played brilliantly by Josh Barnett), the school bully in the previous scene.
As the plot progresses, we’re introduced to the ‘will they-won’t they’ love affair between bar owner, Sam (Fraser Jacobs) and Mary Meacham (Aliyah Odoffin). It provides ammunition for the mandatory OTT emotional ballad, ‘What Am I To You?’ early in the second half. We also discover that Billy, more victim of circumstance than the truly wicked lad of legend, is in trouble in this town and is being pursued by Marshall Pat Garrett (Justina Ana).
This is the world premiere, a new musical written by Ben Frost and Richard Hough. With a little bit of polishing here and there, it’s got all of the ingredients you’d expect to ensure it becomes a staple in school productions for years to come. This stuff of youngsters inhabiting an adult world has certainly contributed to the enduring success of Bugsy Malone. The tunes, jaunty and full of chorus-line barn dances, have toe-tapping potential even if they don’t immediately stick in your head. It’s all well-choreographed even if the frantic nature of the action is sometimes over-bearing and breathless. The dancing is at its best when the Lincoln Lovelies, five showgirls who can can-can and Charleston are given the space to display their talents.
It’s easy enough to sit back and enjoy the gloss of this energetic thigh-slapping romp but if you’re looking for deeper themes then this is surely a coming of age musical about acceptance. The good townspeople of Lincoln welcome the stranger from Ireland, Olivia O’Donnell (Sophie Boardman), after her stagecoach is robbed. And until the going gets tough for the locals, their curiosity about the world outside of their own horizons is honest and generous. The fact that it all changes when there are threats to the town’s own order draws obvious parallels with this Trump-infested Brexit world that we live in.
Billed as a comedy, it’s not laugh a minute though there are moments that make you chuckle. Rosy Smith plays the role of Annabelle Wade, the dumb and drunken bride-to-be of the Colonel with fine comic timing. Josh Barnett, as the Colonel, gets maximum mileage from the humorous words in his song, ‘Keeping The Peace’, and Billy shows that he scrubs up well as a woman when gatecrashing the Colonel’s stag do.
All in all, this is a fine and energetic piece of musical theatre. The standing ovations of the opening night might not continue once enthusiastic and proud parents have left the theatre but there’s still enough about this piece of family entertainment to warrant a summer holiday trip out.
Billy the Kid runs at Curve until August 26th