“Be More Chill” composer Joe Iconis custom-builds a daffy love letter to actress Annie Golden and to the business of Broadway.
Anyone wondering what genre-hopping composer-lyricist-book writer Joe Iconis would do as an encore to the Broadway run of Tony-nominated “Be More Chill” need look no further than his immediate past. Written for veteran stage actress Annie Golden and initially produced by Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Mass. in 2016, “Broadway Bounty Hunter” is both an R&B-soaked love letter to its star and an inside-joke-laden paean to the Great White Way — labor laws, Mandy Patinkin, weaponized Outer Critics awards and all.
In contrast to the buoyant electro-pop of “Be More Chill,” Iconis here creates a score of silken, kitschy tunes inspired by ’70s Blaxpolitation soundtracks, braggadocious R&B and sleek ’90s soul acts like Blackstreet and Destiny’s Child. The teen themes of “Be More Chill” give way to a focus on a “woman of a certain age” (the title of “Broadway Bounty Hunter’s” opening number, and a catchphrase throughout) and the clichéd, limited roles for older performers such as Golden (“Orange is the New Black”).
Meta in a hundred different ways, “Broadway Bounty Hunter” finds the dippy yet bewitching Golden playing “Annie Golden,” a piercing vocalist once triumphant in musicals such as “Assassins, “Hair” and “The Full Monty.” Director Jen Werner and set designer Michael Schweikardt make the most of Greenwich House Theater’s small stage by spilling its action and intrigue into the house and utilizing projections that move the story from Manhattan to Venezuela and back again.
It’s the lead character who reminds the audience of her Golden years in song. “My voice could kill in any key, never had to take the harmony,” she sings. Those days are past, however, and “they don’t spin those records anymore.” Which means, like any great actress whose electricity has gone out — figuratively and literally – this Annie must remake herself using all the tricks of her trade.
In doing all this and giving the actress room to stretch her legs and her voice, Iconis grants Golden the meatiest part she’s had in ages as a downcast out-of-work actor-turned-bounty hunter, seeking to take down a brothel-owning drug lord (Brad Oscar at his loutish, loudest best) who has a secret connection both to Golden and to Broadway.
Iconis and his co-book writers Lance Rubin and Jason Sweettooth Williams take Annie on an occasionally corny journey of discovery, giving her a reluctant companion in fellow bounty hunter Lazarus (Alan H. Green, in his best winding Luther Vandross voice). Mostly, though, the script pushes Golden from schlumpy to heroic, from mousy to mouthy, and from lonely and sad to happily coupled and armed for action.
This Annie might not always be up to the task of the bounty hunting mantra of “one part animal instinct/One part primal rage/One part valiant courage/And the wisdom/That comes with age,” but she’s always willing to try. Iconis and his team have tailored every moment of “Broadway Bounty Hunter” to Golden’s strengths: her doe-eyed innocence, her punk rocky hair flips, her upside-down smile, and her inventive, cutting vocals.
The creators do the same for Golden’s fellow cast members, including Green, Oscar, Emily Borromeo (as the mistress of the bounty hunting biz, Shiro Jin) and the haughtily empowered chorus of Badia Farha, Jasmine Forsberg, Omar Garibay, Jared Joseph and Christina Sajous. It’s the best ensemble cast now playing Off Broadway, thanks to that bespoke feel.
Along with poking serious fun at aging and typecasting, the show tears into other theatrical clichés such as Broadway’s lack of Asian Americans in musicals, the over-dedication to acting methods from Stanislavski to Alexander, and how Mandy Patinkin can be a pain in the ass to work with.
All the overt silliness and daffy plot twists become a bit much at times. But with a talented cast of singing actors and dancers, Iconis’ campy, catchy soundtrack, and Golden as the show’s caramel center — bringing winning poignance and bristling stillness to its maelstrom — this manic musical comedy finds just the right balance of hard knocks, soft shoes and soul.