“Broadway Bounty Hunter” attempts to be the “Being John Malkovich” of stage musicals. The show could be titled “Being Annie Golden,” since the “Orange Is the New Black” actress tells her own backstage story here — well, until she becomes a bounty hunter 15 minutes into the show. Playing a character named Annie Golden, Golden sings that she’s a “Woman of a Certain Age,” and that goes double for an actress, especially one who is best known, besides her recent “Orange” gig, for originating the role of Squeaky Fromme in Stephen Sondheim’s 1990 musical “Assassins.”
In fact, the best joke in “Broadway Bounty Hunter,” which opened Tuesday at Off Broadway’s Greenwich House Theater, comes when Golden shows up for her first bounty-hunter training session wearing an “Assassins” sweatshirt.
But how does one go from being a struggling actress of a certain age to being a ruthless bounty hunter, recruited to track down and bring back alive a New York drug lord now living in South America? It’s an intriguing premise, and book writers Joe Iconis, Lance Rubin and Jason Sweettooth Williams resolve it eventually, in the second act. But for most of the long and rambling first act, you may wonder, WTF? Those ubiquitous letters are expanded on in the first act, and are the show’s second best joke.
Golden enchants with her infectiously pixilated persona that fortunately refuses to walk or think straight. Even so, she quickly gets stuck in the narrative mud of trying to make sense of her character’s baffling predicament. It’s also probably not a good idea to cast a few young actors of color as the more experienced bounty hunters and have them taunt and yell at a white actress of a certain age — unless those insults about age and ethnicity result in some clever jokes. Jennifer Werner’s direction and choreography only add to the mindless frenzy.
The songs by Iconis (“Be More Chill”) are more stabilizing. In the musical’s first scene, Golden appears at an audition when a young actress (Jasmine Forsberg) laughs at her for singing a song from the 1970s. That’s the other thing a new musical should not do: Laugh at songs from the 1970s when Iconis’ songs are weak imitations of Isaac Hayes and J.J. Johnson’s score from “Shaft,” circa 1971.
In the role of Annie’s stud-cohort Lazarus, Alan H. Green neatly channels Richard Roundtree, whose last name ends up as the drug lord Mac Roundtree. (A little inside joke here?) Brad Oscar plays this villain, who snarls a lot. More varied is the performance of Badia Farha. In a variety of small roles, she’s excellent at projecting the pompousness of Angela Bassett at her most pretentious.