Broadway Bounty Hunter Is the Nuttiest Musical of the Summer
The composer of Be More Chill pens a show for musical-theater obsessives.
There are no second acts in American lives, but there are plenty in musical theater. Case in point: The strange new musical Broadway Bounty Hunter by Joe Iconis (composer of Broadway's much-loved yet short-lived Be More Chill). Iconis has collaborated with book writers Lance Rubin and Jason Sweettooth Williams to tell this story of a Broadway actor (who happens to share the name of the actor who plays her) facing down the curtain on her career, only to find herself at the top of a thrilling second act. Everyone in the stellar cast of this off-Broadway debut at Greenwich House Theater seems to be having a blast. The audience, unfortunately, is another story.
Broadway Bounty Hunter comes to New York following a world premiere three summers back at Barrington Stage Company. It tells the story of Annie Golden (Annie Golden, playing a version of herself), a Broadway actor of a certain age. Having starred in Hair and The Full Monty, she now has to fight tooth and nail for bit parts. But when a squad of bounty hunters, led by Shiro Jin (Emily Borromeo playing an executive Mr. Miyagi), invades her apartment, she seizes the opportunity for an exciting career shift.
After an exhilarating training montage, Shiro sends Annie to South America with experienced bounty hunter Lazarus (Alan H. Green, finding the perfect balance between silly and sexy). They're assigned to capture notorious pimp and drug pusher Mac Roundtree (a deliciously devious Brad Oscar). What they discover is a conspiracy that threatens to shake the very foundations of Broadway.
Broadway Bounty Hunter is like the lovechild of Pam Grier and Captain Planet, sent to attend NYU's musical theater writing program on a scholarship from D.A.R.E. It's a musical-theater dork's Nyquil dream, and were it not so well-produced and performed, it would feel a lot like a NYMF show: a clever concept that becomes increasingly tedious as the wheels of the rickety plot fall off (Iconis will be leading a master class at the annual musical festival on July 30).
It's a testament to Jennifer Werner's bare-bones yet efficient direction that it never quite gets there. Werner stages a vast array of scenes on Michael Schweikardt's versatile set. The major elements are two moving panels that feature Brad Peterson's hideous Lisa Frank-inspired video design. Visually assaulting though it is, it helps to create the campy vibe of the show, as do Sarafina Bush's outrageous costumes (plenty of gold lamé and purple fur).
Werner (who also choreographs) endows the production with a spunky energy that has the performers bouncing off the walls of the intimate theater. The cast is more than game to play along, led by the indefatigable Golden, who starts strong in "Woman of a Certain Age" and "Spin Those Records," and keeps on kicking ass throughout (Anne L. Nathan plays the role on Saturday matinees, when the character's name becomes "Anne L. Nathan"). I guarantee that you'll start humming the groovy number "Ain't No Thing" in the days following the show.
In a time of sound-alike new musicals chock-full of forgettable piano ballads, Joe Iconis stands out with his brassy, unapologetically melodic showtunes. His retro proclivities feel particularly well-suited for a show that aims for '70s pastiche: Funk, R&B, and disco all power this show, supercharged by Charlie Rosen's danceable orchestrations.
Not all of the numbers are created equal: A second act villain song titled "The Return of Roundtree" features the repeated refrain, "I'm back, bitch," and has the feeling of a rough draft of a much cleverer number. This is despite the best efforts of its performer, Brad Oscar (he of "A Musical"). If he can't completely sell it as a showstopper, no one can.
The major weakness of Broadway Bounty Hunter is the book: Written as a loving tribute to '70s and '80s action films (especially of the exploitation genre), it comes off merely as a poor imitation, with a plot that defies both stakes and credulity. Iconis, Rubin, and Williams (who all had a hand in the story) fall back on quippy language and catchphrases (Golden regularly punctuates her sentences with the word "yo"). This is true to form, but not nearly as funny as it is meant to be. The off-Broadway audience is far likelier to laugh at material about Golden's storied (yet niche) career: A joke about Mandy Patinkin got one of the biggest laughs on the night I attended.
That makes Broadway Bounty Hunter a delightful summer romp for the musical theater faithful: If you get the jokes, you're part of the tribe. And if you don't, it's nothing that a good strong martini can't remedy.