Review by Larry Murray
Broadway Bounty Hunter is having its world premiere at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield as part of its Musical Theatre Lab (MTL) where Tony-winner William Finn introduces the most promising new musical writers to Berkshire audiences. The exuberant new musical overflows the stage of the Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center and brings the audience into the world of blaxploitation and martial arts movies of the ’70s.
Curiously, its composer, lyricist and co-book writer Joe Iconis never experienced the arrival of the black hero and Hong Kong chop-socky aesthetic directly: he was not born until 1981, long after the form had been bled dry by the Hollywood film industry. Even so, his ability to turn these formulaic movies into a satirical musical is a wonder.
With Julianne Boyd sitting in the director’s chair, Broadway Bounty Hunter matched the awesome energy level achieved by BSC’s earlier mainstage musical Pirates of Penzance directed by John Rando. And in a theater as intimate as the St. Germain, the intensity of the choreography by Jeffrey Page matched the incredible volume of the musical and vocal sounds from its perfectly cast ensemble. Ensconced in the rear fifth of the stage were the six musicians of the band, the largest in memory for a MTL production. The score is rich with R&B and funk and not a little of plain old ‘80s rock ‘n’ roll.
With those elements in place, Iconis added one more: Broadway, in the person of Annie Golden, an aging actress who gets no respect, and who clings on to her fading identity even as a younger generation tries to replace her. She goes through auditions with an old headshot, determination and an old star-shaped off-Broadway award she received decades ago. (Little does she suspect, at the outset, that it will come in handy later in the show as her secret shuriken throwing star.)