(l to r) Annie Golden and Jared Joseph in ‘Broadway Bounty Hunter.’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy)
Annie Golden doesn’t need nunchucks. Just give the veteran actress a groovy melody and she’ll slay. Broadway Bounty Hunter, the latest musical from Joe Iconis (Be More Chill) puts the “woman of a certain age” front and center — and with a career spanning more than 50 years, she deserves it.
Broadway Bounty Hunter springboards from the popular Blaxploitation and Chopsocky films of the 1970s and 80s, which offered otherwise marginalized actors the opportunity to play principal roles. The low-budget films often had a camp quality, and depending on whom you ask, vacillated between archetype and stereotype. Iconis, in his author’s note, describes the pieces as “musical comedy” and not “parody.” That sentiment walks a fine line as it catapults Golden and a deliciously talented multi-racial cast into the realm of an underground bounty hunter, Shiro Jin (Emily Borremeo) and her crew of karate-chopping, high-kicking assassins.
Jin recruits Annie (played by Anne L. Nathan at certain performances) to join forces with her most acclaimed employee Lazarus (Alan H. Green) and head to South America, where they’re to retrieve Max Roundtree (Brad Oscar), who’s running a drug cartel. Forget bricks of cocaine, Roundtree is pushing Fierce, a high-octane energy shot intended to jack up Broadway performers so they can crank out 20 shows a week. (Never mind where the audiences will come from with all the shows slated to close this year.)
Golden, who made her Broadway debut in the original company of Hair (and also appeared in the film), relies on a sturdy voice that’s well served her decades-spanning career. She knows how to conserve her energy for Iconis’s rousing, Motown-infused score, but her deadpan humor occasionally reads as vacant. The kooky plot clips along, further energized by a big-budget design that includes LED screens featuring projection and videos by Brad Peterson, lighting design by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer (Once on This Island), and a cavalcade of costumes by Sarafina Bush. The sound design booms at decibel-crushing levels, (much like Iconis’s Be More Chill), infusing the show with a manic kind of “feel our vibe!” in spite of a song list that could stand a trimmed verse or two.
Fight choreography isn’t credited (though Ian Coulter-Buford is noted as Fight Captain) so the inherent lack of danger in Broadway Bounty Hunter may rest on the shoulders of director/choreographer Jennifer Werner. Physical sequences, such as Annie’s Karate Kid-esque sparring session or the Ho House South American throwdown, feel cautious. Werner’s staging appears more confident when she’s maneuvering the chameleon-like cast through a bevy of hip-hop, locking, popping and waacking.
Still, Broadway Bounty Hunter delivers a summer joy ride for musical theater fans that appreciate a side of funk. This endeavor, which premiered at Barrington Stage Company in 2016, exemplifies Iconis’s tuneful talents and is immensely bolstered by Charlie Rosen’s groovy orchestrations. The composer-lyricist-playwright is inching closer to a breakout hit, and I have a feeling it’s just a matter of time before the hunt for widespread critical and commercial acclaim is captured.
Broadway Bounty Hunter
Greenwich House Theater
27 Barrow Street
Through September 15
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor and a member of the American Theatre Critics Association. Read more of his work at wexlerwrites.com.