It comes as no surprise that the sensational Joe Iconis and Family have done it again, following the phenomenal digital-age journey of one of my (and millions of fans’) all-time favorites, Be More Chill. Currently commanding the Off-Broadway stage of Greenwich House Theater for a limited engagement (after its regional world-premiere run with the Barrington Stage Company in the Berkshires), Broadway Bounty Hunter – by Iconis (music and lyrics) and longtime collaborators Jason SweetTooth Williams and Lance Rubin (with whom he co-wrote the book) – is a completely original, incomparably clever, and outrageously hilarious musical comedy based in the pop culture of the ‘70s, which delivers not just the laughs, but an uplifting message of never giving up, even if it’s been downhill since then, while giving a voice to those who’ve been marginalized in the past.
Inspired by the show’s star Annie Golden, who plays a fictionalized eponymous version of herself, the uproarious action-adventure female-centric plot follows the madcap trajectory of a “Woman of a Certain Age” discovering her true strength and self-worth through a series of zany twists and turns. Over the unforeseen course of her empowering development, she makes the transition from an extremely talented and in-demand actress of stage and screen who, now older and widowed, can no longer book a job in New York, to a purposefully recruited and trained bounty hunter, sent on a mission with a highly experienced partner Lazarus (expressly unhappy to be paired with the unlikely rookie), to hunt down a drug lord/brothel owner in South America. Sound wild? It is, in unmistakable Iconis and Family fashion!
The hysterically funny over-the-top storyline and songs are chock full of witty self-referencing insider jokes and sight gags about Golden’s impressive real-life resumé, professional acting methods and techniques, the Tonys and other theater awards, the Broadway paradigm, and the fleeting nature of fame; nods to the blaxploition and kung-fu films (made by and featuring African-American and Asian-American casts and teams) that were then the rage, with characters, names, and dialogue that recall the figures, actors, and lingo in them; and a pumped-up retro-style score influenced by the most popular hits, musical genres, and theme songs of the era. Everything about the show is spot-on in its satirical humor and farcical throwbacks, and it’s also great fun for the audience to try to identify the rich flow of allusions, inspirations, send-ups, and borrowings, in signature Iconis style, from those iconic sources.
Jennifer Werner directs with an eye on the full-out wackiness inherent in the plot and an affecting empathy for the down-on-her-luck but pick-herself-back-up-again central character, expertly adjusting the pacing to fit the mood of each scene, from aggressive rapid-fire energy to measured pathos and tenderness. Her active blocking moves the ensemble around the stage, through the aisles, and up close to the audience; her choreography encompasses everything from erotic dancing and disco, to martial-arts training with nunchucks and long poles, to slow-motion fights replete with the priceless facial expressions of the combatants, all impeccably attuned to the musical styles and rhythms of Iconis’s score.
Golden delivers a stellar three-dimensional performance that captures the poignancy of her character’s heartrending rejections and losses, in addition to her indomitable spirit of love, dedication, and self-realization, all manifested in the irresistible quality of her ingenuous smile and sweet speaking-voice, and in the pitch-perfect powerhouse delivery of her expressive vocals (“Veins” is one of the highlights of her blockbuster songs).
Along with Golden, a diverse supporting cast of eight embraces the ‘70s archetypes and attitudes to sidesplitting perfection, with no-holds-barred conviction and killer moves and voices, as in the group number “Master Shiro’s Bounty Hunters” (vocal arrangements by Joel Waggoner). But they, too, at times, are given to reveal their characters’ innermost thoughts, emotions, and motivations, as the outwardly tough and cool Lazarus does in “Feelings” and Shiro Jin, master of the bounty hunters, does in “Shiro Vows Revenge” – roles that are skillfully played by the terrific Alan H. Green and Emily Borromeo – upgrading them from mere parodic stereotypes to real people, without forsaking the elements of surprise and humor that characterize the show and keep us howling.
Brad Oscar is laughably detestable as the duplicitous and dangerous pusher and pimp Mac Roundtree, enemy target of the bounty hunters (whose name evokes Richard Roundtree, star of the seminal Shaft movie of 1971). Rounding out the consistently impressive and entertaining cast are Badia Farha (what a voice!), Jasmine Forsberg, Omar Garibay, Jared Joseph, and Christina Sajous, all playing multiple roles and each stealing at least one scene in the show (including the uproarious segment in Mac’s brothel, with both male and female “climax coaches”).
A top-notch live band (with music direction by Geoffrey Ko and music supervision and orchestrations by Charlie Rosen) and a first-rate artistic design amplify both the look and tone of the ‘70s. Michael Schweikardt’s efficient set is enlivened by the evocative lighting of Jules Fisher + Peggy Eisenhauer, sound by Cody Spencer, and colorful digital projections and videos by Brad Peterson that transport us from Broadway to South America. And eye-popping period-style costumes by Sarafina Bush define the characters, their occupations (Golden’s Assassins hoodie provides a great visual tie-in), the dazzling era of disco, and the original films that triggered the imaginative concept for the show.
The latest highly-anticipated Off-Broadway musical by Joe Iconis and Family, Broadway Bounty Hunter is more than just a thoroughly enjoyable laugh-out-loud parody – which in and of itself would be enough. As with all of their work, there’s also a serious underlying message that elevates the off-the-wall humor with heart and compassion – and that’s what makes it even better.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 5 minutes, including an intermission.