Her iconic character in Orange is the New Black may have been silent, but in real life, Annie Golden is a powerhouse vocalist.
Last summer, Golden starred in the Off-Broadway premiere of Broadway Bounty Hunter, a new musical with music and lyrics by Joe Iconis (Be More Chill; NBC’s Smash). The show featured Golden as a down-on-her-luck actress (also named Annie) who is presented with the opportunity to revive her career by becoming a Kung-fu fighting bounty hunter.
This past April, Ghostlight Records released the original cast recording for Broadway Bounty Hunter. To celebrate, Golden and I chatted about the show and its album, the #WeSeeYou movement calling out racial injustice in theater, the legacy of Orange is the New Black, and much more.
ALEX KELLEHER-NAGORSKI: Broadway Bounty Hunter began its journey with a sold-out run at Barrington Stage Company in the Berkshires, MA. How did the show evolve from its regional premiere to its off-Broadway run to the cast recording?
ANNIE GOLDEN: The Barrington Stage debut of Broadway Bounty Hunter in Pittsfield, Massachusetts had some cast changes from regional to Off Broadway. Our choreographer from Violet, Jeffrey Page, whom I had referred to the project took over and saved the production when some creative team personnel changes occurred. It was a problematic project for me since I was plagued with allergies out of my element in Massachusetts for the summer and some plants (golden rods!), so that production was a challenge for all involved. But we triumphed and were a hit and very popular with the Barrington Stage subscribers and Berkshire audiences and even busloads of fans came up from NYC.
What drew you to Broadway Bounty Hunter when you first read the script?
What drew me to this project? Actually it was a gift given to me. Joe Iconis, Lance Rubin and Jason “Sweettooth” Williams met me at West Bank Cafe and said they had something to show me. Kathy Evans at Rhinebeck Writers Retreat asked those boys if they’d like to come up and work on something. We went downstairs to Laurie Beechman Theatre and Joe sang “Woman of a Certain Age” and “Spin Those Records.” Lance and Jason read all the characters in the first act and I read the role of Annie Golden!
You first stepped into the spotlight as lead singer of CBGB headliner The Shirts in the 1970s. How did kicking off your career in punk rock prepare you for a career in musical theater?
CBGB was a no-frills down and dirty existence. So it was great preparation for cramped backstage and crowded wings. All the glamour is presented under the footlights and in the spotlights but behind the scenes can be quite a rude awakening for our audiences. So CBGB was a terrific training ground to putting on a show … no matter what!
The show’s music is an eclectic fusion of genres, from soul to rock. Stylistically, how does singing this type of music differ from some of your previous work in musicals like Hair and Assassins?
Yes, I have been blessed with being cast to sing many diverse scores. You want to be able to sing anything that you are presented with. The gift of a song is a sacred trust. You want to honor that composer’s vision. Hair broke all the rules when it began, so when I did the revival in 1977 and movie in 1979, I was happy to be a part of something renegade in its nature! Assassins was Sondheim and let’s face it, he SET all the rules while raising the bar in the legacy of Rodgers and Hammerstein and his collaborator Leonard Bernstein (West Side Story) so modern yet so classic in its structure. Fringe was Galt MacDermot (Hair) and theater royalty/legacy was Sondheim! So I have had the best of both worlds, for sure! You always want to rise to the challenge. And being challenged keeps you fresh.
Joe Iconis is one of the most celebrated contemporary musical theater composers working today. What was the process like collaborating with him on these new songs and being the one to introduce them to the world?
Joe Iconis wrote this piece for me. I met him when he was at NYU and presenting his black box thesis production for the first time of The Black Suits. He wrote the nosy neighbor lady, Mrs. Werring, with me in mind. This was, mind you, all before Orange is the New Black. I was proud to introduce this now-established Tony-nominated composer’s bright new voice to theater audiences everywhere.
Broadway Bounty Hunter also includes a good amount of action. Did you already have any prior experience with Kung Fu and/or stage fighting? How did you train to prepare for this aspect of the role?
Train? Me? Aa! I am an absolute klutz! But I am also a hard worker. Thank goodness there is a device in Kung Fu films of stunt doubles and shadow boxing. Badia Farha did all the heavy lifting and kicking for me with the ensemble and when the lights came up I WAS center stage huffing and puffing… for comedic effect. Any physical feats, from choreography to athleticism that involves Annie Golden must be done as a comedy device. Honestly …
Throughout the show, your character goes on a journey to discover her true badass identity. What elements of this journey did you relate to personally and what’s something about yourself that playing Annie has taught you?
The badass element means to stand up for yourself, to push back when things are suspicious. As someone who has been doing this for as long as I have, 40+ years, I want to maintain and stay relevant, not only be “cast” or be “chosen” but also be “seen” and recognized as worthwhile. Those boys could not believe some of the Actor’s Nightmare 101 stories I shared with them. Because they admire and value me, they felt that when you are a veteran and have paid your dues with an extensive resume you would also be well-respected. Not so much. So they put some of my stories in their lyrics and dialogue. So playing Annie, with that element of truth to it, hopefully did some good in affecting change with regard to “Women of a Certain Age” in show business. So this gig was a Public Service Announcement as well!
Now that the off-Broadway run has wrapped up, are there plans for any future productions of Broadway Bounty Hunteronce theaters start to reopen?
Our cast recording is so very stunning and captures the joy and spirit of this show so beautifully. I would not rule out the possiblity of it resurrecting this delightful show in the future.
Last year, Orange is the New Black wrapped up after seven seasons. What do you miss the most about playing Norma and what do you think/hope the show’s legacy will be years from now when people look back at it?
Orange is the New Black was for me, five seasons of joyful collaboration and groundbreaking creativity with wonderful courageous show runners. Norma Romano was a gift and I embrace her legacy. To be known as such a compassionate, silent, powerful, profound character is a sacred trust and I am very proud of my work playing this lovely character opposite such stunning scene partners. I am happy to say that I believe Orange put Netflix on the media map. I am happy to think that our show brought attention to the plight of the incarcerated in this country. Thank god for John Legend’s dedication to the imprisoned.
What is your response to #WeSeeYou? What does being an antiracist mean to you, both within the context of this industry and personally?
I can only speak for myself. I was worried for Kaepernick when he bravely took a knee. I knew there would be repercussions for him as an athlete and an activist because I was a young person when at the Olympics the black fists were raised in protest during the medal ceremony on the podium so very long ago! This is nothing new to me. There were murders happening before cell phone footage. Now we have a daily reminder of the shameful behavior toward our citizens of color. I don’t do social media. I do all I can in my own life to spread joy and love. I am the flower child who will not wilt. However, the state of this world worries me.
At a time when live theater is hurting so much, what are some ways that you recommend people help support the theater community while still staying at home?
I can’t say what can be done about theater’s future. Financial donations and support are necessary for its survival. But art is a luxury. Something we treat ourselves to and people are struggling to live their every day lives: pay their rent, feed their children. So theater will have to maintain itself for now. There are life and death issues pending with this pandemic and protesting for change. Art will find a way!
Thank you so much, Annie! Is there anything else you’d like to add/plug that we didn’t discuss?
I don’t know when we will resume but I had been blessed with work before the lockdown that has kept my face out there! The Broadway Bounty Hunter cast album, of course, and on HBO the pilot episode of Run which aired soon after the shutdown. Then I recorded for Broadway Podcast Network a lovely project called Bleeding Love in three chapters, which itself is so lush and beautifully done that it sounds like you’re sitting in a theater. I also did another podcast with Night Vale Presents called It Makes a Sound for nine lovely episodes. I have finally released my first ever solo EP of my own four compositions on iTunes and Spotify called Annie Golden Friends and Family: Live at the Cutting Room, NYC!
Most recently I have worked with (director) Tate Taylor. Tate offered me a role he had written for his TV series debut on Fox called Filthy Rich, which will air on their fall line-up this September. So blessings abound for me and I am so very fortunate to have such champions in my corner!
PHOTO | LELAND BOBBÉ