Tuesday, July 30, 2019

GUEST REVIEW 12: (2019-2020): TILL

“The Legacy of a Mother and Son”***

by Elyse Orecchio (guest reviewer)

From time to time Theatre's Leiter Side posts reviews of Off-Off Broadway shows my schedule prevents me from seeing. If you are interested in reviewing Off-Off Broadway, please contact me so we can discuss. I hope you find the expanded coverage useful. Sam Leiter

I saw Till at the New York Musical Festival (NYMF) on what would have been the 78th birthday of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old whose brutal murder in 1955 ignited civil rights protests and is still in the news today. Just last week some Mississippi frat boys vandalized his memorial, as plenty others have done (consequently, a bulletproof replacement is in the works).

Synonymous with the story of Emmett is the story of his mother Mamie Till, who made sure the world saw the barbaric images of her son’s mutilated body by holding an open casket funeral, iconicized in this photograph. In this new musical with music and lyrics by Leo Schwartz and a book by Schwartz and DC Cathro, Till explores the life of Emmett and Mamie in the time leading up to his tragic death.
Dwelvan David and company. Photo: Russ Rowland.
Chillingly directed by NJ Agwuna, the production opens with somber vocalizations from a gospel quartet who prepare the audience for the impending devastation. The energy shifts as we meet young Emmett, played with spunky exuberance by Taylor A. Blackman.  He is a typical teen, up to typical shenanigans, and his bond with his mother is sweetly established. Mamie (an excellent Denielle Marie Grey) is hesitant to allow him to leave their Chicago home to stay with his uncle in Money, Mississippi, but reluctantly lets him make the ill-fated trip down South, where Jim Crow looms.
Taylor Blackman and company. Photo: Russ Rowland.
The immensely talented gospel quartet portrays the rest of the characters: Tyla Collier as Emmett’s grandmother Alma and others, Dwelvan David as Emmett’s uncle and others, Judith Franklin as Emmett’s cousin and others, Dwelvan David as Emmett’s uncle and others, Judith Franklin as Emmett’s cousin and others, and most notably, Devin Roberts, who seamlessly transitions back and forth between Mamie’s kind suitor and Roy, the sinister white store clerk who ends Emmett’s life. 

Roy and Carolyn Bryant are a white couple running a small store in Money. There are various versions of what happened to set off Roy: it was said that Emmett whistled at his wife, Carolyn. In Till, Emmett whistles during a game of checkers, which Carolyn mistakes as intended for her. When Roy learns of this, he abducts Emmett in the middle of the night; the boy’s lynched body is found days later.
Dwelvan David, Judith Franklin, Taylor Blackman, Ty Collier, Devin Roberts. Photo: Russ Rowland.
A few things happen to dilute the maximum impact of the tragic events. Emmett is played by an adult, his murder occurs offstage, and it can be construed that “fault” is attributed to Emmett’s uncle, who apologizes to the Bryants for his nephew’s behavior when the matter was already forgotten. White characters are portrayed by the African-American cast wearing half-masks and white gloves, a choice that will surely spark conversation. As a result of these elements, the gruesome depiction of white people mutilating a black child is left to our imagination, arguably a contrast to Mamie Till’s intent, but perhaps a safe decision for musical theatre.

The production ends with Mamie’s declaration (“Come Follow Me”) that her son will not be forgotten, along with projections of figures from Martin Luther King Jr. to President Barack Obama, which solidifies Emmett Till’s relevance in the history of the civil rights movement. But some of the most important things I learned about the Till legacy came from doing research for this piece instead of from the show itself, such as the subsequent trial (and acquittal) of Bryant, or the details on Mamie Till’s heroic efforts to fight for her son’s memory. 

I would have preferred more time being devoted to the aftermath of Till’s murder. But I left the theatre feeling privileged to have watched Emmett and Mamie’s story as a shared experience with other humans. to have been given that real-life connection in the room. The production’s guttural emotion, compounded with its political,  thought-provoking, and, needless to say, relevant, content, makes Till the show most likely to be remembered among this season’s NYMF offerings. 
Pershing Square Signature Center/Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre
480 W. 42nd St., NYC
[Closed July 28]

Elyse Orecchio studied musical theatre at Emerson College, acting at CUNY Brooklyn College, and English Linguistics & Rhetoric at CUNY Hunter College. She has worked in nonprofit communications for more than a decade. She lives in Sunnyside, Queens, with her husband Joe, kids Theo and Melody, and three cats. eorecchio@gmail.com @elyseorecchio


“An Unfinished Symphony”***

By Elyse Orecchio (guest reviewer)

From time to time 
Theatre's Leiter Side posts reviews of Off-Off Broadway shows my schedule prevents me from seeing. If you are interested in reviewing Off-Off Broadway, please contact me so we can discuss. I hope you find the expanded coverage useful. Sam Leiter

I don’t know whether it’s a compliment or a criticism to say that the New York Musical Festival production of Overture, which takes place in Kansas City, looks like it takes place in, well, Kansas City. The cast emulates a definitive Midwestern vibenot the most polished, but charming and earnest. Overture tells the true story, set in 1953, of the flailing Kansas City Philharmonic through a fictional romance that falls flat. If Krista Eyler sought simply to write an old-fashioned musical comedy from the 50s, then she succeeded. The production that, reportedly, was successful in the 2018 Kansas City Fringe Festival lacks the modern perspective to appeal to a savvy New York City audience. (For numerous production photos, click here.)

The leading lady is Lily (Eyler, who wrote the music and lyrics and co-wrote the book with director Barbara Nichols), whose passion for classical music is encapsulated in a beautiful ballad about “her favorite sounds in the world.” Because she is gradually going deaf, she long ago gave up a career in music and resigned herself to ticket sales in the box office; she is happy being on the street where the orchestra lives. That is, until she meets Christopher (Joel Morrison), who is disenchanted with the music biz because he can’t seem to advance beyond assistant conductor. 

The two begin at odds with each other but get over it pretty quickly and begin to fall in love. Lily resists the romance, terrified that Christopher will learn she is losing her hearing. The spunky woman who snuck off to orchestra rehearsals earlier in the show is now mainly concerned about disappointing the guy she’s into. Spoiler alert: when Christopher finally learns the truth, he’s pretty meh about it and even hands her the baton to lead the KC Philharmonic with zero rehearsal. 

The subplot more successfully strikes a chord, telling the true story of how the community came together to save the KC Phil from going under, largely thanks to the Women’s Committee, whose cookbook sales brought in much of the needed funds. Though real-life figures Inda Mae Beaseley, Marie McCune, and Clara Hockaday (Kay Noonan, Erica Baruth, and Stasha Case, respectively) draw the bulk of the show’s laughs (Baruth is especially funny), their goofy characterizations undermine the weight of the tremendous efforts of these women to rescue the KC Phil through creative fundraising tactics. 

Eyler delivers a colorful score laden with clever classical musical references in the lyrics. Also colorful are the women’s shoes, which I found myself staring at a whole lot, along with the elegant dresses of the period (costume design by Joanna Windler). 

Full of heart, Overture is chock full of enthusiastic performances from the original Kansas City cast. If the script gets the tune-up it needs, perhaps the production will orchestrate a second movement.
The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre
480 W42nd st., NYC
[Closed July 28]

Elyse Orecchio studied musical theatre at Emerson College, acting at CUNY Brooklyn College, and English Linguistics & Rhetoric at CUNY Hunter College. She has worked in nonprofit communications for more than a decade. She lives in Sunnyside, Queens, with her husband Joe, kids Theo and Melody, and three cats. eorecchio@gmail.com @elyseorecchio

50 (2019-2020): Review: MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW (seen July 29, 2019)

"Three Sisters Three Sisters Three Sisters Three Sisters Three Sisters Three Sisters"

Something there is in the major plays of- turn-of-the-20th-century Russian playwright Anton Chekhov that has driven a number of later writers to radically revise them for their times. Sometimes this done by shifting the action to other eras and places, sometimes by simply (or not so simply) rewriting them, even radically, in contemporary terms.
Rebecca Henderson, Tavi Gevinson, Chris Perfetti. Photo: Joan Marcus.
The latter is what the talented Halley Feiffer (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City) has done in her off-the-mark crack at Three Sisters, Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow (she does like her weird titles).  The play was produced in 2017 at the Williamstown Theatre Festival before arriving in New York New York New York New York New York New York. 
Tavi Gevinson, Rebecca Henderson, Chris Perfetti. Photo: Joan Marcus.
One of the earliest Chekhov transformations by an American playwright is Joshua Logan’s 1950 The Wisteria Trees, which considers The Cherry Orchard as happening on a late 19th-century Louisiana plantation. So many other unusual Chekhov variations followed, it would take pages to list them. 
Gene Jones, Greg Hildreth. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Just to cite those I recall being shown in mainstream New York theatres during the past several years, there was a 2013 revival of British dramatist Thomas Kilroy’s 1981 version of The Seagull, relocated to West Ireland; the same year’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Christopher Durang’s hilarious take on Uncle Vanya; Songbird, a 2015 musical adaptation of The Seagull set in a honkytonk bar; Aaron Posner’s 2016 Stupid Fucking Bird, a reincarnation of The Seagull; and this year’s Life Sucks, Posner’s still-running, well-regarded update of Uncle Vanya (which I missed). There have also been several modern-dress, if somewhat less-revisionist, Chekhov productions during the past half-dozen years. 
Ryan Spahn, Tavi Gevinson. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Speaking of Moscow . . . , whose full title forces my spellcheck to lose its mind, Feiffer suggests in a New York Times interview that one motivation for her play, is how closely Three Sisters’ characters closely resemble many of the people around her. “Nothing has really changed.”
Alfredo Narcisco, Chris Perfetti. Photo: Joan Marcus.
So, rather than let Chekhov’s original (whatever that is) reflect those similarities, she’s been inspired to write her own play, placing a select number of Three Sisters characters inside a mashup of Chekhovian and contemporary Russia. The result is over-the-top farcical zaniness, cartoonish behavior, oodles of profanity, simulated sex, frequent repetitions (like Trigorin’s references to his wife and children, or Kulygin’s to his teaching Latin), and unexpected plot twists (like Tuzenbach's [Steven Boyar] confession to Irina that he’s gay).
Steven Boyar, Matthew Jeffers. Photo: Joan Marcus.
There’s also a deliberately diverse cast, mingling white, black, Asian, and Latinx actors, not to mention having a little person as Solyony (Matthew Jeffers), and a wigless, crossdressing man play Masha (Chris Perfetti). The goal, not too dissimilar from the above-mentioned approach to Chekhov’s subtext, is intended “to illustrate how universal this story is,” as if the story itself can’t be trusted to do that on its own. 
Company of Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow. Photo: Joan Marcus.
This MCC production is placed on Mark Wendland’s sparsely furnished platform, alley-style, between bleachers on either side, with a backdrop at one end showing a painting of Moscow over which hangs the word “Moscow” in its Russian spelling. Overhead is a partial roof of plywood, within which hang Christmas-style lights (Ben Stanton is the lighting designer).
Rebecca Henderson, Chris Perfetti, Tavi Gevinson. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Paloma Young’s costumes, with their selective mix of “period” and current fashions (like giving pink stilettos to Natasha [Sas Goldberg] and a long, brass-buttoned, military coat to Trigorin [Alfredo Narcisco]), create what looks more like a rehearsal than a fully produced performance. The same blend of old and new, Russian and American, is conveyed in Darren L. West’s sound score.
Company of Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Feiffer highlights the characters’ loneliness, pain, and unhappiness, about which they are always lamenting, by a variety of hopefully humorous techniques, in which she’s aided and abetted by director Trip Cullman. Much of the humor is uncomfortably sophomoric, though, like when someone sits on a whoopee cushion. There's nothing sloppy, though, about the performance. Everything is staged with pinpoint timing, choral outbursts, outright stylization, and rhythmic precision. Neverthless, much is loud and obvious, while little is honestly human and emotionally affecting. Many in the rather youthful audience laughed; I cringed.
Greg Hildreth, Sas Goldberg. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Feiffer, who sticks close to the original plot, notes that she “brought a lot of the subtext to the forefront in an effort to heighten the pathos and catharsis with the storytelling.” This implies that Chekhov’s ability to create “pathos and catharsis” with his subtext is somehow faulty and needs an overhaul.  For me, the effect, over 95 intermissionless minutes, was comparable to an SNL sketch exceeding its welcome by 90 minutes before the sisters march off to Moscow.

If you don’t know Three Sisters, whose plot I’ve deliberately omitted, you’ll likely find Moscow . . . meaningless. It’s the kind of thing only those familiar—even superficially—with the original could love or hate, not so much for its innate qualities, but for what it illuminates about its source. If you’re planning to see Feiffer, read Chekhov first.

All the actors, including Rebecca Henderson as Olga, Tavi Gevinson as Irina, Ako as Anfisa, Greg Hildreth as Andrey, and Gene Jones as Ferapont, give it their best shot, doing high-quality work with low-quality material.
Rebecca Henderson, Ako. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Feiffer says Three Sisters became the titular six Moscows when she was considering using only five. A friend advised her to use six because “Six is more annoying.” As predicted, Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow's title is annoying, and not just its title.

The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space,
511 W. 52nd St., NYC
Through August 17


Wednesday, July 24, 2019

47 (2019-2020): Review: the way she spoke (seen July 23, 2019)

“The Pink Crosses of Juárez”

Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, a city just over the border from El Paso, Texas, is notorious for the number of women raped, mutilated, and killed there since the 1990s. The extreme poverty of many of its residents has contributed to the horrific deaths of hundreds of women in what has been dubbed a wave of feminicide (feminicidio). Isaac Gomez’s (Steppenwolf’s La Ruta) the way she spoke is only the latest effort to bring the situation to those who might not be aware of it, although its tale of callous brutality and inhuman cruelty has been the subject of multiple books, poems, songs, and movies, both documentary and fictional.
All photos of Kate del Castillo by Joan Marcus.
Gomez, who grew up in El Paso and regularly visited family in Juárez during his childhood, is a Chicago-based playwright whose one-woman play uses an affected, lower-case title. It also employs an equally affected subtitle, “a docu-mythologia” (in the script but not on the program), The latter term is reiterated in the dialogue but the main title remains unexplained.

For all its tragic content, the way she spoke is far less emotionally affecting than might otherwise be imagined, partly because of Gomez’s narrative approach.
The set has been “designed” by Riccardo Hernandez to be nothing more than the brick-walled stage of the Minetta Lane Theatre, its furnishings a table and chair and nothing else. (Aside from the furniture, it could as easily serve for another current one-woman play, Jacqueline Novak: Get on Your Knee, at the Cherry Lane.) Lap Chu Li provides visual interest with unusual lighting transitions, and Aaron Rhyne’s projections of vaguely seen images offer subtle suggestions of the play’s world.

The play begins when, after knocking loudly at the stage right door, a beautiful actress, Kate del Castillo (a TV and movie star in her native Mexico), rushes in. (Gomez insists a Mexican actress play the part, not one from a long list of other Latin nations he mentions.) Chattering away, she recognizes the playwright, presumably sitting in the house. We take it this is Gomez, who appears to have once been her lover.
She complains about this and that, and relates how the men who just auditioned her for a part saw her only in terms of her looks for a stereotypical Latina sexpot. She proceeds to audition for the invisible playwright, slipping between her own and his voice. This is a cold reading, so she only grasps the potency of the material as she gets into it, stepping out of the script every now and then to talk to the director, sometimes reading from the script as it she’d never seen it before. Ultimately, she does without it at all.

The play-within-a-play, then, is the play we’ve come to see, intended for a solo performer, presented as part of an audition by an actress with exceptional sight-reading talents. It requires her to play both the playwright himself, who narrates the events, and the multiple other characters he encounters when visiting Juárez after many years to research the stories of the murdered and disappeared women.

Mostly in blank verse English, but with significant infusions of Spanish and Spanglish, the play introduces various characters whom the playwright ostensibly interviewed as he was driven around the dangerous part of the city by a local friend and her mom. We meet mothers; a butch bus driver who drove the women to and from their factory jobs; a man who confessed to murder, was nevertheless released from prison, and blames the police for the killings; and so on, including imaginary commentary from the Virgin Mary.
The names of numerous actual victims are recited, all symbolized by pink crosses erected as symbols of resistance to such slaughter. As the coup de grâce, the Actress recites—or does so until she reaches a point where she can’t go on—an endless list of victims, from a three-year old girl to elderly women, but mainly women in their teens and 20s.

The play exists not to offer solutions but merely to describe conditions, as if by exposing these the world will somehow rise up and do something about it. Looking at the half-filled theatre, it didn’t seem this approach was going to appeal to many would-be saviors. More a memoir than a drama, the way she spoke never theatricalizes its subject matter to the point where we become emotionally invested, even the roll call of names having little impact, although its intention is to overwhelm the Actress as much as the audience.
del Castillo is a talented actress, but so physically fit-looking in her black slacks and sleeveless black top it’s difficult to see beyond her sleek appearance to the world of hardship, pain, and blood envisioned by Gomez’s play. And while she’s lithe and graceful, she’s not a chameleon, able to clearly enough differentiate the characters’ physical and vocal differences so we always know who’s talking. Working under Jo Bonney's direction, she makes a strong effort but not enough to overcome the ennui that arises, regardless of the inherent power of the subject matter.

One thing a play about so dramatic a story (or accumulation of stories) should not be is undramatic. And one word a play like the way she spoke should never allow its audience to speak is “boring.”

Minetta Lane Theatre
18 Minetta Lane, NYC
Through August 18


Monday, July 22, 2019

46 (2019-2020): Review: JACQUELINE NOVAK: GET ON YOUR KNEES (seen July 18, 2019)

“Thar She Blows!”

No, despite its heading, this review isn’t about a show based on Moby Dick. Then again, much of it is about dicks, both mopey and alert. Its star is a rising, young, standup comic named Jacqueline Novak who doesn’t shy from the title “Blowjob Queen.” Even the name of her one-woman show, Jacqueline Novak: Get on Your Knees, let’s us know where she stands (or kneels).

Jacquelin Novak. All photos: Monique Carboni
Novak’s show is a 90-minute comedy routine performed in classic standup style on the Cherry Lane Theatre’s stage, stripped down to nothing but its de rigueur, comedy-club, bare-brick walls. Her only prop is a hand-held mic, her costume a simple, gray t-shirt and dark jeans, her blondish hair (unlike the color on the program cover portrait) pulled back in a pony tail. 

Novak's personality is sneakily unassuming, her lines delivered in a natural, conversational way, broken now and then by a mild smile at something she’s said that got a notable audience reaction. She’s also very physical, using her body to express much of what she’s talking about, which, since what she’s talking about, mostly, is blowjobs and hand jobs, needs very little for us to catch what it is she’s doing. 

Remember that song, “Sodomy,” in Hair? The one that begins, "Sodomy, Fellatio, Cunnilingus, Pederasty"" It was pretty risqué back in 1968 but Novak’s play doesn’t bother with such formal vocabulary for what she’s talking about, the word “fellatio” not being mentioned once. It’s kind of unusual to see a female comic do an extended riff on her experiences giving blowjobs but, if the orgasmic laughter climaxing at the Cherry Lane is any indication, it’s also kind of refreshing. 
Novak’s routine may be dealing with crass material but she brings a spirited, lighthearted honesty to her work that elevates even her often hilarious discussion of words like “penis” to a higher level. She’s a brilliant raconteur of linguistic niceties, finding fun not only in vocabulary—her bit about why “cock” so nicely encapsulates what it represents is terrific—but in phraseology, the euphemistic idioms (like “laying a pipe,” “baby arm,” or “rock hard”) we use to describe things sexual. Seeking to dignify sexual activity, she prefers atypical ways of describing them, such as calling “doggy style” “the hound’s way.”

Structurally, the piece rambles, loses comic intensity, then picks up with some huge zinger or two, sometimes deliberately thrown away in an offhand manner. Novak’s zany meditations, some of them concerned with concepts like ghosts, are mainly erogenous, as she recalls learning the basics of fellating a fellow high school student, and eventually mastering the art. She similarly deconstructs the nature, aptitudes, and appearances of penises and vulva (her own included), with jocularly erudite disquisitions on the balls. 

Much time is also occupied with the relative toothiness of blowjobs, with its side issue of biting off a member, and the nonexistence of bones in organs capable of being called boners. One of her cleverest bits involves having two mouths while servicing her boyfriend, but I’ll let you discover for yourself why she’d find that helpful. 
Most of the audience packing the Cherry Lane looked like Gen X, Millenials, and Gen Zs, and their laughter was both frequent and loud. My baby boomer plus-one laughed a lot, too, but my own rictus capacity was not quite as active, I’m afraid. I appreciated Novak’s mental, verbal, and physical agility, and was with her all the way, but I was never rocked by the kind of tear-provoking, pee-inducing laughter I've experienced with great sets by comedians like Richard Prior, George Carlin, Joan Rivers, et al.  Humor is in the bladder of the beholder.

Jacqueline Novak is a poetess of the penis, a vindicator of the vulva, a booster of the blowjob. The latter act may require a subject on which to practice but I think most of us would prefer to see this smart and talented comic just as she is, solo. Like what she spends so much time ruminating about, she is, after all, in the standup business.

Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce St., NYC
Through August 18


45 (2019-2020): BROADWAY BOUNTY HUNTER (seen July 20, 2019)

“A Woman of a Certain Age”

Annie Golden, now 67, may have a deep and abiding place in the hearts of veteran theatregoers with offbeat inclinations but it’s probably safe to say, along with Wikipedia, that “she is best known for playing mute Norma Romano” on the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black.” Readers not familiar with her should really take a look at the aforesaid Wikipedia page, and also Google the images of her changing appearance to get a clear perspective of just how diverse her career has been. As with all of us, she’s changed physically over the years, which is itself part of the self-deprecating humor that infuses her current, name-above-the-title, Off-Broadway show, Broadway Bounty Hunter, at the Greenwich House Theater.
Company of Broadway Bounty Hunter. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
If you don’t know of Golden’s golden years, when she was the lead singer with the punk rock band The Shirts, or when she appeared in various manifestations of Hair, or was in the original production of Sondheim’s Assassins, you’ll be deliciously delighted when she opens that snaggle-toothed mouth and displays her still terrifically listenable voice.
Jared Joseph, Jasmine Forsberg, Annie Golden, Christina Sajous. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
Let’s be clear: Broadway Bounty Hunter is a defiantly silly and campily over-the-top vehicle. It’s also very funny, and, if you go with its flow, performed with such persistent pizzazz by its unbeatably versatile ensemble that you may not believe you’re liking it so much. Broadway Bounty Hunter is probably too limited in appeal to be Broadway bound but it deserves an extended Off-Broadway life when its run at Greenwich House expires.
Omar Garibay, Jasmine Forsberg, Jared Joseph, Badia Farha, Christina Sajous. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
I’m fully aware that, like even the best of Charles Ludlam’s old Theatre of the Ridiculous productions, some audiences won’t tune in to its wavelength. Others, like most of the audience when I attended, will give it their hearts, if not their minds. I’ll put it this way: the show, which originated at the Barrington Stage Company in the Berkshires, has a score by Joe Iconis, whose Be More Chill will soon be closing its Broadway run. That show, too, had an exaggerated book, based on a popular young adult’s novel, but, apart from one or two numbers, it failed to engage me.
Annie Golden. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
Broadway Bounty Hunter’s charmingly preposterous book, by Iconis, Lance Rubin, and Jason Sweettooth Williams, had me from the start, maybe because it’s so filled with inside theatre stuff. Golden plays Annie Golden—a cartoon version of herself—not as the successful star she’s currently become, but as an aging actress who’s lost her popularity. As she laments in a song that becomes almost an anthem of self-assertion, she keeps getting turned down for parts because she’s “A Woman of a Certain Age.” It doesn’t help that she lives in the past, even attending auditions with dated headshots from the time of her cutest glory.
Company of Broadway Bounty Hunter. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
All right. I won’t go into great detail about the plot but here are some basics. Annie, whose beloved producer husband, Charlie, is believed to have drowned ten years earlier, finds herself with her power cut off because she hasn’t paid her bill. At that very moment, she’s confronted in her apartment by Master Shiro Jin (Emily Borromeo), a tall, sleek, Asian beauty who runs a bounty hunting operation with a team of six wickedly dangerous, attractive men and women hunters.
Jared Joseph, Badia Farha, Annie Golden, Jasmine Forsberg, Christina Sajous. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
Shiro recruits the frumpy Annie, who quickly masters the required martial arts techniques, not only because she’s surprisingly physically adept but because she’s able to invest her methods with theatrical knowhow, finding stage-related analogies and characters she’s played to solve each problem that arises.
Annie Golden, Alan H. Greene. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
She’s partnered by Shiro with the superfly hunter, Lazarus (Alan H. Greene), so swaggeringly cool you’d probably stick to him if your skin and his came in contact. Although initially resentful of the pairing, Lazarus leaves with his new partner for the jungles of Ecuador to bring back the villainous Mac Roundtree (Brad Oscar, The Producers), a pimp and drug pusher. Shiro wants him because he caused her actor brother, Hiro, to die from an overdose.
Emily Borromeo, Christina Sajous, Omar Garibay, Annie Golden, Jasmine Forsberg, Alan H. Greene. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
Mac’s goal is to produce shows on Broadway with casts juiced up on a drug he’s created called Fierce, whose potency will increase their talents multifold and give them so much energy they’ll be able to break the union rules of no more than eight shows a week by doing 15! Like a dedicated union deputy, Annie will not stand for such rule-breaking, although she’ll have to reconcile her bounty hunting duties with what she discovers about Mac’s identity.
Badia Farha, Jasmine Forsberg, Christina Sajous, Brad Oscar. Photo; Matthew Murphy.
Sit back and let the players do the work for you as the company—five playing multiple roles with clever wigs and a panoply of Sarafina Bush’s marvelously imagined costumes—takes you along to Ecuador and back on Michael Schweikardt’s adaptable set. Helping it all click are the continuously imaginative video projections of Brad Peterson and the first-class lighting effects by the great Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer.
Alan H. Greene, Brad Oscar. Photo: Matthew Murphy,
Director Jennifer Weiner’s staging and inventive choreography—much of it based on kung fu moves (watch out for those amazingly well-handled nunchucks!) and some done in hilarious slo mo—never flag as the action barrels along, with one rousing, rock-inspired show-stopper after the other. This is one of the most talented ensembles around, each with dancing, singing, acting, and comic skills so good they practically shout for wider recognition.
Annie Golden, Emily Borromeo. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
I salute Badhia Farha as Sienna and others; Jasmine Forsberg as Indigo and others; Omar Garibay as Spark Plug and others; Jared Joseph as Felipe and others; and Christina Sajous as Claudine Machine and others. They comprise a bodacious, booty-shaking team for the ages, especially when the shaking happens in Mac Roundtree’s “Ho House,” whose sex workers Annie wants to unionize.
Annie Golden, Alan H. Greene. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
Brad Oscar’s Mac Roundtree is as good as you’d expect from this musical comedy veteran. Alan H. Greene may have the name of someone you’d hire to do your taxes but he’s a strappingly striking dude—think an African-American Dwayne Johnson—whose powerhouse presence, physical and vocal, delivers time and again. Emily Borromeo is a dream of exotic mystery and control. Finally, Annie Golden’s comedic and musical glow, as she calls for women to rise up and smash the male patriarchy, shows that all that glisters is indeed golden.
Company of Broadway Bounty Hunter. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
Which leaves us with the burning question: what happens when, at Saturday matinees, Anne L. Nathan takes over for Annie Golden?
Company of Broadway Bounty Hunter. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
Greenwich House Theater
27 Barrow St., NYC
Through September 15