Posted by caroleditosti
Broadway Bounty Hunter starring the inimitable Annie Golden (Orange is the New Black for six seasons) is a musical comedy that gyrates into the stratosphere with hijinks galore. and a plot that careens to an apotheosis of self-fulfillment for the atypical, underdog, heroic bounty hunter characters. The just comeuppance for the white, privileged, male villain with a greedy, malevolent and double dealing heart (the excellent Brad Oscar) feels right by the conclusion of the production, though he has Broadway connections and was once a sensitive, artistic type until he turned to the “dark side.”
With Music and Lyrics by Joe Iconis (Be More Chill) and Book by Joe Iconis and long time collaborators Lance Rubin (Bloodsong of Love) and Jason Sweettooth Williams (Be More Chill) the production is a hard one to “categorize!” That is its hybrid grace, for it defies description and is a meld of farce, satire, comedy and musical that keeps one riveted by divergences into adventurous, road-trip sequences and action that hypes up the humor and suspense, all the while having a blast and twitting itself. If that “description” appears over-the-top,” the show is just that, and its entertainment and production values are larger-than-life with the excitement and exuberance of a musical that is off-beat wild.
Yet, it begins on a dark, depressing note. Annie, an out of work actress and apparent “has-been,” as “A Woman of a Certain Age,” goes to an audition and is insulted and demeaned by the audition monitor, director and another actress she meets there. The opening number is choreographed and staged by the exceptional Jennifer Werner to encompass the entire theater. The ensemble takes on the roles of various New York City street folks. It is they who take up the cry that Annie later refrains, “they’re not giving no free rides,” to “kick you off the stage,” when you’re a “woman of a certain age.”
This unhealthy dose of reality is a slap in the face to every women in the audience over forty and that is the point of revealing where Annie is in her life: in the pits, at rock bottom, in the valley of the shadow of death. Can it get any worse? It does, happy female campers!
After swallowing this bitter dose of time and place in her life, Annie goes back to her seedy apartment and her answering machine of dire messages and the coming blackout of her lights being shut off for non payment of bills. It is then she realizes it’s over for her in the song “Spin Those Records.” Her only solace is talking and singing to the resplendent Charlie, the picture of her Broadway producer husband, who died over ten years ago. As she attempts to persevere to get to the next refrain of the song “I won’t spin those records anymore,” the ensemble echoes her lament that her success has long faded and the songs she once sang in glory have now “forgotten her.”
That the real Annie Golden who has turned the trope of “woman of a certain age” on its head with her success in Orange is the New Black, is not lost on her fans in the audience who cheer her on. And that is the point of the first two songs; the successful Annie Golden can sing these (and she can belt with roaring power) with a hint of mournful acknowledgement that “it is done,” because it isn’t! This is the salvation and humor and hope, which is a major theme of this production. It is never done! It is never over! And surprises do come right around the corner and improve one’s circumstances. But you must persevere for their “coming.”
Annie’s “apparent” nemesis is that “the matrix” of privilege in the institutions of the patriarchical system (whether it be in the entertainment industry, politics or global corporate control) would dictate and select who and what can be successful, mostly white men; in the entertainment industry, young, white and thin. Nevertheless, the labels and definitions the institutions place can be overcome and twerked by redefinition and a revolution that embraces multiculturalism and defies ageism, which this production does! Though the setting is the past, the production speaks with its whole heart to the present! BRAVO!
With fervor, inspiration and a little “help” from your friends and colleagues who face the same conditions, you can prosper and thrive with effort, drive and enthusiasm. Considering that only the few “fit” the “success” labels, the great majority who don’t are allies. It is only a matter of perceiving this to be true and working to bring it into reality. Iconis, Rubin’s and Sweettooth Williams’ message is especially uplifting and forward thinking in this wannabe retrograde time of Trumpism.
The creators and director are masters of reversals. They turn inside out “the matrix” that would keep us inside “the box,” and keep audiences lulled into the traditional expectations of musical plot, spectacle and character so they don’t necessarily have to look for the profound. Iconis, Rubin and Sweettooth Williams are grand at going upside down and striking deep notes about our culture and society. This production from its funky, stylized music of the 70s and 80s found in Blaxploitation films like Shaft, Super Fly, Foxy Brown, Coffy, etc., to its kung fu, martial arts choreography (by Jennifer Werner) replete with nunchucks (chuka sticks) staffs and surround-action movement and staging with the ensemble abundantly using the audience aisles, soars with energy and excitement. And if you look for vital themes, they are everywhere from #metoo, to image fascism and silent oppression that doesn’t “exist,” until it slams you in the face.
Because we follow Annie to the outer depths of the Mariana Trench of emotional devastation, we are ready to soar with her to the heights of a new career as a “bad ass” bounty hunter hired by Shiro Jin (the classic, cool, deadly Emily Borromeo). We empathize readily with Annie as she accepts “Shiro’s Proposition” without completely understanding the how and the why of it. We cheer her on as Annie becomes accomplished in martial arts skills with the other bounty hunters. And when she gains confidence and bravery learning her “killer moves” and employing acting techniques to sharpen her inner “rage,” we thrill for her.
Ironically, by this point we realize this Bounty Hunter business is no joke. Annie automatically accepts her “mission impossible” to locate, confront and “take out” the despicable, drug pusher, pimp daddy killer with the hot name Mac Roundtree (the funny Brad Oscar). But what is a sweet “woman of a certain age” doing? Well, she does have the help of a strong, uber powerful, yet soft-hearted, sensitive partner Lazarus (the winning, gorgeous-voiced Alan H. Green).
In the song “Mac Roundtree Theme Song,” Brad Oscar is the dirty, rotten scoundrel who will front them and “not go easily” against Annie and Lazarus, especially on his home turf in Ecuador. With this shades of the film Scarface, in the foreground, we understand the stakes have been raised and Roundtree is worse than Shiro Jin has let on to Annie and Lazarus. Indeed, their boss may be sacrificing Annie for her own agenda to kill Roundtree. Furthermore, Lazarus and Annie are counter intuitive partners; Lazarus finds her hard to accept and she is dismissive of him. Just before they end up at Roundtree’s mansion in the jungle, Lazarus does confront his demons with the ensemble’s help in”Feelings.” Alan H. Green is just plain out hysterical as he sings Lazarus’ inner angst.
As they confront Roundtree’s allurements/prostitutes who gain information about the man and woman are who have come to Roundtree’s empire, the ensemble pulls out all the stops and performs the smashing “The Song of Janessa.” And it is then that the creators, once more, interject two twists in characterization and plot as the arc of development spins into an unexpected direction. Lazarus and Annie discover with a brief touch of the hand, they are attracted to one another (“Aint No Thing”). The second dynamic twist I will not reveal because it is a delicious reversal of a reversal and this is no spoiler alert. Suffice to say that Annie and Lazarus make a fascinating discovery which brings the production to an insightful and intensifying end of Act I. When Act II lifts into the heavens you are ready to hold beats and join Annie and Lazarus for the more surprises.
The production flies high with the performances that are campy, yet heartfelt. Standouts are the principals, Green, Golden and Oscar. The ensemble in movement, dance with powerful voices is exceptional. Thanks to Werner’s direction and choreography the show leaps from scene to energetic scene to the jazzy, funky, pop score beautifully rendered by Geoffrey KO, with Charlie Rosen’s Music Supervision & Orchestrations. Just great!
I also enjoyed the fine use of projection and video by Brad Peterson whose designs were the best I’ve seen Off Broadway. They melded with the Lighting Design by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer and both sparked up and enhanced the tone and style of this musical, especially in the fight scenes, and Lazarus’ driving his sweet truck sequence. Kudos to Michael Schwelkardt for functional, clever scenic design, Sarafina Bush’s costume design (especially for the ensemble during “The Song of Janessa”) and Cody Spencer’s excellent sound design.
Broadway Bounty Hunter is at the Greenwich House Theater on 27 Barrow Street until 15 September. Reimagined, it moved from Barrington Stage Company where it had a critically acclaimed, sold-out run, to land in the city where the story of Annie Golden begins and ends triumphantly after she goes to South America to deal with a hardened drug pusher criminal. The production will probably have legs and continue to move. Regardless, if it goes uptown, it is a must see that is a unique, enjoyable ride into the past future. Female Bounty Hunters need to do more bad ass kicking the patriarchy before the election cycle is done. For tickets and times CLICK HERE.