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After decades as a character actress, the sexagenarian gets her golden ticket with Broadway Bounty Hunter
Even though Annie Golden is a woman of a certain age, she has no plans to retire. Why would she when writers are penning parts just for her? The 67 year old is currently starring in the exuberant meta-musical comedy Broadway Bounty Hunter as Annie Golden, a down-on-her-luck showbiz vet who's recruited to go after a murderous theatre producer-turned-drug lord. And she just wrapped up her multi-season arc as the mostly mute Norma Romano on Orange Is the New Black, a role crafted specifically for Golden by the show's creator Jenji Kohan.
"If you stick around long enough, people might start to get you if you're lucky," says the ever-chipper Brooklynite with major counterculture cred. She sang in the '70s punk band The Shirts, made her Broadway and movie debuts in the hippie musical Hair, and even scored a mainstream New Wave hit with "Hang Up the Phone", which was featured on the soundtrack for John Hughes' movie Sixteen Candles. "Apparently Jenji knew my band, and Joe [Iconis, songwriter for Broadway Bounty Hunter] knew me from [original cast recordings] of musicals. So I'm just very lucky that people who saw me back in the day remembered me, and younger people who discovered me on their own, like Joe, want to write for me."
With her red mane, pixie vibe and throbbing belt, there's no other performer quite like her. In fact, she's so singular, Iconis actually described a character as "an Annie Golden type" in the script for his NYU thesis project The Black Suits, which is how the two met in 2006. "I had just done a musical called Mimi le Duck and one of our producers, Marie Costanza, worked at NYU," Golden recalls. "She read his synopsis and said to Joe, 'Would you like me to ask Annie if she would be interested in doing this?' He couldn't believe his luck, as it were. I can't believe my luck either!"
The Black Suits -- about a high school garage band whose members are growing up and apart -- had multiple incarnations over the years, and Golden was in every one. "I've done it with so many people," she says, citing Will Roland, Jason Tam and Ben Platt. "The band always ages out, but the nosy neighbor lady who knows Lou Reed and David Bowie and Mick Jagger, that demographic doesn't change so I'm the only one who's ever played the role."
She also became part of Iconis' "family", an eclectic group of performers who appear in his frequent cabarets. It was after one of those performances that Iconis and his book co-writers Jason Sweettooth Williams and Lance Rubin hatched the idea for Broadway Bounty Hunter. They wanted to give the veteran character actress -- whose New York stage credits include Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme in the original production of Assassins, Georgie Bukatinsky in The Full Monty and Lucy Schmeeler in On the Town -- a chance to be the leading lady. The musical had its world premiere at Barrington Stage Company in the Berkshires in 2016 followed by a sold-out, one-night-only concert at Joe's Pub. With Iconis' star currently on the rise thanks to his Tony-nominated Broadway debut Be More Chill, Broadway Bounty Hunter has finally landed Off-Broadway at the Greenwich House Theatre.
On the surface, the show is unabashedly campy, with a plot inspired by '70s-era blaxploitation and kung fu flicks, a soul-heavy score and tons of inside theatre jokes -- Golden wears an Assassins T-shirt, and there are punch lines about the Alexander Technique and Mandy Patinkin. But Golden says underneath the action and cracks is a sobering message about what it takes to stick it out in an unforgiving business.
"When they first presented it to me, I felt it was really just speaking truths about a career in theatre, reaching a milestone number and the bottom suddenly falling out of opportunities," she says. "People have seen you for decades so they think they know every trick in your book, every color of your voice, everything you can accomplish as an actress, so you're discarded in a way." Even though the industry indignities she suffers in Broadway Bounty Hunter are played for laughs, they have the depressing ring of authenticity.
Yet Golden is adamant that she's playing a character, not herself: "It's really not my life story." However, she acknowledges that the narrative nods to her personal as well as her professional life. "Joe knows that every time I seem to get a wonderful opportunity in my career, some tragedy befalls me," she says. "I lost my brother, who was my drummer, right after I got Orange is the New Black. Two summers ago I was in Boston doing a play when my brother-in-law, an ironworker, fell on the Verrazzano Bridge and I couldn't get back because we were in previews. Joe put all that in there in a way by making me this lonely widowed lady. All the humor has some kind of basis in reality, and I think he knows that I can handle that kind of comedy with pathos "
Since Golden has a cult following, Broadway Bounty Hunter has been packing in her fans. But the hope is that the show will introduce her to new audiences -- although not on Saturday matinees, when Anne L. Nathan plays the role with references specific to her theatre career. "She wears a Thoroughly Modern Millie shirt!" Golden says. "For the longevity and life of the show, they can put any qualified diva with a résumé in and make it work."
Asked who else she'd like to see take on the part, Golden admits, "I'm loving doing it myself. You know, I was the last Audrey that went into [the original production of] Little Shop of Horrors at the Orpheum Theatre on Second Avenue, and this kind of reminds me of it. It's a little downtown show with a big heart." And what will she do once it closes? "They're always going to need a nosy neighbor, a spinster aunt or a pixelated grandma somewhere."
Top image: Annie Golden in Broadway Bounty Hunter. Photos by Matthew Murphy.