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Annie Golden is a Punk-Rock Queen

Date: Jul 17, 2014


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I heard Annie Golden's voice before I ever saw her. Her song "Hang Up the Phone"---a bizarrely peppy ode to romantic jealousy---made quite an impression on me as an adolescent when I heard it in John Hughes' movie Sixteen Candles. I played it over and over and over again (on LP!), and I fell for her clear, high-pitched voice, which sounded strong but also throbbed with emotion and insecurity.

Little did I know Golden's career would mirror my own life. We both started out as punk rock chicks, though I just went to CBGBs in the '80s while she headlined there as the lead singer of the band The Shirts a decade earlier. The theatre, though, was always my real obsession---as a teen, I played my Sondheim records in secret so that none of my "cool" friends would know. And that's how I rediscovered Golden: She sang another twisted love song, "Unworthy of Your Love," as Charles Manson acolyte Squeaky Fromme on the cast recording of the original production of Assassins.

After that, my one-sided love affair with Golden truly blossomed. As a young NYC theatre journalist, I saw her in many shows in the '90s and the '00s: Playing a hilarious dud of a blind date in On the Town, the straight-talking working-class wife of an aspiring male stripper in The Full Monty, and a variety of roles in an early workshop of Broadway Musicals of 1968 at La MaMa. That last one---a compilation of songs and scenes from mostly forgotten old-fashioned shows that happened to be on Broadway in the same year the game-changing Hair opened---was particularly ironic for Golden, since she made both her Main Stem and movie debuts in incarnations of the American Tribal Love Rock Musical.

Like me, Golden has spent her career straddling two different but complementary worlds. After all, punk has always been unabashedly theatrical, so it's no wonder she ended up on Broadway but still moonlights as a downtown rock 'n' roll singer. (Joe Iconis is even developing an action hero rock musical just for her called Annie Golden: Bounty Hunter, Yo!) That's not so uncommon for Broadway performers these days, but back when Golden was coming up, there was a lot less crossover.

And that's something I've always admired about Golden: her ability to seem authentic in a wide variety of genres and characters. That talent is on great display in her current Broadway gig, the 1964-set musical Violet, in which she plays both a prudish old chatterbox and an over-the-hill hooker. As the 60-something biddy on the bus, her hair covered in a kerchief, the only trace of the punk rock Golden is in her eyes, which hint at a life hard-lived. As the hooker, she's all boozy bluster and musky sex. They're small but pivotal parts that reflect the changing morality of the title character and the era.

Of course these days, the golden-throated character actress is most recognized for her face, not her voice, thanks to playing Red's mute kitchen cohort Norma on Netflix's Orange is the New Black, which was recently nominated for a dozen Emmys. Golden wasn't among the nominees, and she's never received a major theatre award either. But anyone who saw the season 1 finale---in which she saved the Christmas pageant by unexpectedly singing---knows that she's always been a winner.

Raven Snook is TDF's associate editor of online content