At Barrington Stage, a new musical, "Broadway Bounty Hunter," offers a soundtrack for our time
PITTSFIELD — It's back to the 1970s at Barrington Stage Company's St. Germain Stage where a brand new musical, "Broadway Bounty Hunter," is having its world premiere.
Inspired by the "blaxploitation" movies of the 1970s; films geared for urban black audiences with primarily black casts and funk- and soul-infused soundtracks. The movies — films like "Shaft," "Foxy Brown," "Sweetback's Baadasssss Song," "Cleopatra Jones," "Cotton Comes to Harlem," "Blacula," "Three the Hard Way," "Uptown Saturday Night," "Cooley High," "Super Fly,""The mack," "Coffy," among others — crossed film genres and found audiences across racial and ethnic lines.
"The quality of the films varied," said "Broadway Bounty Hunter" composer-lyricist-writer Joe Iconis during an interview with his collaborators Lance Rubin (book) and Jason SweetTooth Williams (book) just days before the start of previews.
"So many of them were defined more by their music, composed by really good writers (Isaac hayes, Curtis Mayfield, Herbie Hancock, James Brown, among others). I wanted to use that kind of music in our palette."
The three also were inspired by their starring actress, Annie Golden, a SAG Award-winner for her role as Norma Romano on the Netflix series "Orange is the New Black."
Golden was in on the first reading of their musical "Black Suits," at New York University in 2005.
The four worked together intermittently after that. Fast forward to 2011.
"The three of us (Iconis, Rubin and Williams) were at a benefit," Iconis said, "and we began talking about Annie and how, for all the big musicals she's done in New York, she's never had a starring role in one. We also thought how funny it would be to see Annie as an action heroine. That really was the germ of the idea."
What they've come up with in "Broadway Bounty Hunter" — which officially opens tonight after a week of previews — is a musical about a Broadway actress — Golden — who is asked to become a bounty hunter and track down and catch a South American drug lord, played by Jeff McCarthy, who last appeared at BSC in 2015 as Cervantes/Quixote in "Man of LaMancha."
Iconis, Rubin and Williams take the word "collaboration" seriously and meaningfully.
The heavy lifting in writing the show was done far from madding crowds at Weston Playhouse Artists Retreat in Vermont, Rhinebeck (N.Y.) Writers' Retreat, Johnny Mercer Writers' Colony at Goodspeed Musicals in Connecticut, and Cap21 in New York.
"For us, collaboration begins with having to make big creative decisions," Rubin said.
"We want to be supportive of each other," Williams said. "And as we've gotten closer to production, we've gotten much more honest with each other. We're very open with each other; very much in each other's world."
Iconis and his partners say it's a boon to be able to put the finishing touches on and mount the world premiere of a new musical in the Berkshires — close enough to New York so that interested people in the theater community can come and have a look; far enough away "from the egos of New York," Iconis says, "to allow a new work for the stage to breathe."
"Broadway Bounty Hunter" has changed over the course of the work that's been done on it. The musical has become, Rubin says, something of "a celebration of marginalized groups. It's a way of aligning the art we're making with a world of diversity."
As an example, Iconis said, "the cast for the first reading was a little more white. As we went on working on the show, we felt that any character that didn't have to be white shouldn't be."
"As artists," said Williams, "we're always interested in changing our perspective; in expanding our horizon and point of view."
The whole idea behind "Broadway Bounty Hunter," Iconis says, "is to talk about big issues through the lens of these tacky films. It immediately takes away all the pretension."
"We look on this as a funny show," Williams said.
"Humor," Rubin added, "is an amazing way to engage with serious issues."
What: "Broadway Bounty Hunter." Music and lyrics by Joe Iconis. Book by Joe Iconis, Lance Rubin and Jason SweetTooth Williams. Directed by Julianne Boyd
Who: Barrington Stage Company Musical Theatre Lab
Where: St. Germain Stage, Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center, 36 Linden St., Pittsfield
When: Now through Sept. 4 (press opening tonight). Evenings — Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30. Matinees— Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 3
How: 413-236-8888; barringtonstageco.org; in person at Barrington Stage Company box office — Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, 30 Union St., Pittsfield
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.