In a theater ecosystem that’s so often predictable, it’s a thrill when something truly bizarre comes along. Any time a logline makes you think, “I have no idea what this will look like,” it’s a welcome relief. So when I first heard of Broadway Bounty Hunter, I was hopeful for something truly out there. I mean, it’s a bizarre notion: Broadway character actress Annie Golden, adrift and out of work, decides to become a bounty hunter? That only sounds like it could be batshit.
What’s onstage at the Greenwich House Theater instead calls for such dreaded superlatives as “fun” or “cute” or “a good time.” Nothing about it is bad – Jennifer Werner’s production is vibrant, Joe Iconis’ score zips along, and the cast is committed. Still, it feels like something is missing. The plot is technically like nothing I’ve seen in musical theater, yet most of its beats felt predictable. The cast is trying their darndest, yet none of them really stand out. The production, vibrant as it is, comes to feel like an empty shell straining way too hard to please.
Weirdly, the problems begin with Annie Golden herself. Golden is a superb performer and a treasure of the American musical theater, rightly getting a starring role at last. Unfortunately, Iconis (along with Lance Rubin and Jason Sweettooth Williams, who assist on the book) seems to feel that in playing Golden front and center, the work is already done. There isn’t much of a character for Golden to play. She is a shy, unassuming actress who needs to learn how to stand up for herself (or, “dropkick the patriarchy”), and that’s about it.
In fairness, Bounty Hunter is deliberately playing in the broad and unsubtle. Annie is recruited into an elite team of bounty hunters, quickly trained in kicking ass, then sent to South America to track down a brothel-owning drug lord. For the mission, she is paired with Lazarus (Alan H. Green, sexy as hell), a smooth talking Shaft-alike who is baffled by his new partner. The two quickly uncover a nefarious scheme which, improbably enough, traces all the way back to Broadway.
It’s all silly and it’s all meant to be silly. Iconis is playing in, among other genres, ‘70s-era Blaxploitation comedy. He even finds time to make fun of his own Broadway show, Be More Chill. Some of it works: the training montage kills and the odd-couple pairing of Annie and Lazarus is entertaining. Other elements fall flat. The rest of the bounty hunters never really gain distinct personalities, eventually becoming a blur. The showbiz jokes are mostly weak. Annie meets one of Lazarus’ meltdowns with, “I feel like I’m working with Mandy Patinkin again.” (Is that a joke? That feels like half a joke.)
Still, it bears repeating–none of this is really unenjoyable. Iconis’ songs are all bright and breezy, though none stuck with me. Werner leans into the cheapness of the production, even mocking the roughness of her own transitions, which I appreciated. Emily Borromeo steals all her scenes as Shiro Jin, master of the bounty hunters, though she’s unfortunately underused.
Only once, though, does the production go batshit in the way I’d hoped for. There’s one extended number in the second act where Broadway legend Brad Oscar, as evil drug lord Mac Roundtree, briefly grabs the reins of the show. “The Return of Roundtree” is a loud and messy number, indulging Iconis’ most chaotic qualities. Oscar runs with it, jumping around the stage like a madman and screaming until he’s hoarse. It is totally bonkers, and I loved every moment. I wish I could say the same of this show as a whole.