Composer-lyricist Joe Inconis’ follow up to his teen favorite, Be More Chill, is not only a showcase for musical comedy actress Annie Golden but a tribute to the Blaxploitation and Martial Arts movies of the 1970’s and 1980’s. While Broadway Bounty Hunter is very entertaining, it might have been a better show if had not been so anxious to not be a parody or a satire. Written by Iconis and longtime collaborators Lance Rubin and Jason Sweettooth Williams, the energetic cast, fully attuned with their concept has been directed and choreographed with fierce energy by Jennifer Werner who has previously created the dances for five of Iconis’ last six shows.
The star plays herself Annie Golden, a woman of a certain age, being rejected by casting agents in favor of younger actresses. Much use is made of her actual résumé, in which she created roles in the stage musicals The Full Monty, Xanadu, Assassins and film version of Hair. In the new show, she has been a lonely widow for ten years since her husband and producer Charlie died in a freak boating accident. When she bumps into a mysterious woman dressed all in black on her way to an audition in the Theater District, she later receives a visit from the woman who invites her to a Dojo on 13th Avenue the following morning. Given an opportunity to become a real life Kung Fu fighting bounty hunter, she decides to put her training to work in a new way. She obtains the code name Little Red Fox from her signature hair and her husband’s nickname for her.
When she is paired with ultra-cool Lazarus (Alan H. Green) who always works alone (think Richard Roundtree in the original Shaft), he is not pleased to be partnered by a white woman – and actress – of a certain age. Their mission takes them to Ecuador on a nine day car trip to bring back the heinous drug kingpin and brothel owner Mac Roundtree (Brad Oscar) and bring him back to New York. Along the way Annie finds adventure, danger, love and her inner strength.
The score with music and lyrics by Iconis is a melodic blend of pop, R & B and soul. Werner’s choreography turns all of the ensemble songs into fast-paced production numbers while the power-ballads for Golden and Green may just be the best thing about the show. Just as in his Be More Chill, older viewers will find the sound a bit too loud (here courtesy of designer Cody Spencer) but that appears to be his thing. As directed by Werner and played entirely straight by its cast without a hint of satire, the book by Iconis, Rubin and Williams appears to be one more Blaxploitation or Martial Arts movie that never got made, rather than a parody which might have been more fun. In homage to those movies, the cast aside from Annie and Mac is comprised of people of color.
Michael Schweikardt’s serviceable unit set is expanded by Brad Peterson’s clever projection and video design which takes us from a Times Square rehearsal room to the jungles of South America and everywhere in between. The noirish lighting by the legendary team of Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer adds much atmosphere as well as color to the story. Sarafina Bush’s eclectic costumes mix off -the-rack items with those found in thrift shops. The adroit vocal arrangements are by Joel Waggoner. Charlie Rosen who also worked on the Broadway and Off Broadway versions of Be More Chill is responsible for the music supervision and orchestrations for the band of six led by Geoffrey Ko.
Written for Golden, Broadway Bounty Hunter keeps her on stage through almost all of the scenes. The show makes use of her charming personality and her enviable singing ability. However, it doesn’t challenge her very much beyond things she has done before. (At Saturday matinees, the leading role is played by Anne L. Nathan and incorporates her theater résumé. ) As top bounty hunter Lazarus, Green brings his powerful presence as well as a powerful baritone. Oscar revels in the role of the nefarious American criminal in his usual over-the-top manner.
As the mysterious Shiro Jin who runs the only female-run bounty hunting agency in New York City, Emily Borromeo is as cool as ice, while Badia Farha who runs her day-to-day operations is as hot tempered as fire. Playing numerous roles from scene to scene, the rest of the cast made up of Jasmine Forsberg, Omar Garibay, Jared Joseph and Christina Sajous bring tremendous energy to their work and make the show feel like there are a great many more performers involved.
While Broadway Bounty Hunter with its homage to the Blaxploitation and Martial Arts movies of the 1970’s and 1980’s will likely not attract the same audience as the sci-fi teen musical, Be More Chill, it is an entertaining evening in the theater. With its talk of the stage version of Xanadu, Stanislavski and Alexander technique, Marlon Brando, Kristin Linklater, and Mandy Patinkin, it is also geared for a theater crowd. However, it is not the landmark, genre breaking musical we are waiting for from triple threat theater artist Joe Iconis. What genre he will attack next is anybody’s guess.
Broadway Bounty Hunter (through August 18, 2019)
Greenwich House Theater, 27 Barrow Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-352-3701 or visit http://www.broadwaybountyhunter.com
Running time: two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission