Broadway and bounty hunting—what do those things have in common? More than you might expect! The Off-Broadway musical by Joe Iconis, Jason “SweetTooth” Williams and Lance Rubin stars Annie Golden and a killer cast, including Alan H. Green (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Brad Oscar (Something Rotten!), Emily Borromeo (School of Rock) and Christina Sajous (SpongeBob SquarePants, Spider Man: Turn off the Dark, American Idiot).
Composer and lyricist Joe Iconis developed Broadway Bounty Hunter for Annie Golden, known for headlining the punk band The Shirts in the late ’70s, starring in the film version Hair and portraying Norma, a mute woman, on Orange Is the New Black. She plays a fictionalized version of herself—a down-on-her-luck actress who is recruited into a bounty hunting agency to take down a drug lord in South America.
“She’s punk rock all day every day…There is a reason why this show was literally written for her and about her, loosely, because she is truly a badass,” Sajous said. “Joe, Lance and Jason all said that they thought someone like Annie deserves her own show…Getting the chance to work with her in person, you see that she is 100 percent authentic and why they were so inspired.”
The musical features an R&B funk score and is told in the style of a Blaxploitation film of the ‘70s with touches of classic kung fu movies. Sajous said the music is inspired by Curtis Mayfield, one of her favorite artists.
“It felt very fresh and new, but also old all at the same time,” she explained. “I feel like what Joe Iconis is doing is reintroducing a flavor of music that was so historical and so important….He’s bringing that back. That’s something we don’t get a chance to hear very often.”
Broadway Bounty Hunter first hit the stage at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA, in 2016 before opening Off-Broadway in July. Sajous came to be involved in the project like most actors become involved in any project—by auditioning. However, she had the opportunity to read the script several years ago.
“I remember then the interest that I had in the project,” she said. “I just thought that it was so unique and different, but felt familiar to what I understood about black cinema.”
Sajous studied black film and black theater in college at NYU and has a minor in black studies as a result. She had the privilege of working with groundbreaking filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles at the Apollo Theater when he was staging a musical adaptation of his 1971 film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.
“Growing up in New York City, I didn’t get a really great opportunity to learn a lot about my black history, so during that time I got a chance to watch a lot of black film [and later] met Melvin Van Peebles and had the opportunity to work with him,” Sajous said. “It was amazing to work first-hand with the director of a Blaxploitation film.”
Sajous takes on two roles in Broadway Bounty Hunter—Claudine Machine, a bounty hunter, and Janessa, a prostitute who gets hooked on a new drug called fierce by Mac Roundtree, an international drug lord.
“Claudine Machine…prepares Annie for battle,” Sajous said. “My job is to not only support her and make sure that she is prepared to train her physically and mentally and emotionally to be a Broadway bounty hunter, but also to just support her as a colleague.”
It’s impossible to not feel like a badass while clad in leather and wielding a pair of nunchucks, but Sajous felt that way the whole time because of the fast-paced nature of the show.
“We’re doing these quick [costume] changes, they are one of the craziest quick changes I think I’ve ever endured as an artist on and off stage,” said Sajous, who called the show ‘meticulously crafted.’ “[Director and choreographer] Jen Werner…had done at least a year-and-a-half of preproduction prior to us being cast.”
Iconis, whose popular musical Be More Chill recently closed on Broadway, is known in the theater world for bringing performers together into a family that feeds off of each other’s creativity.
“His loyalty and his respect for artistry is what blows my mind,” Sajous said. “What I really love about Joe is that he treats us with value. I think we’ve been trained as artists to feel like players, but he treats us like we are part of the family and that we have a say and a voice in how we interpret his music and his storytelling. And that goes beyond family—that is trust.”
One of Sajous’ earliest exposures to musical theater was seeing a performance of The Wiz. Seeing people of color like herself on stage made an impact on her.
“During that time, I think I associated a lot of musical theater with people who were white because that’s what we saw in [shows like] The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins,” Sajous said. “To sit down in an audience…that was mixed race…and to see the stage…with a lot of people of color, that for me was very inspiring.”
Sajous made her Broadway debut in American Idiot, the musical based on the 2004 Green Day concept album of the same name that expressed the disillusionment of young people at that time and shaped a generation. She was 23 years old when she auditioned and was cast as The Extraordinary Girl, and she went with the show through workshops, to Vassar, to Berkeley, to the Grammys and ultimately to Broadway in 2010.
“It really set a trajectory of what I wanted to do and reminded me that I was living in my purpose,” Sajous said about the experience. “What I wanted to do was be an artist and here I am doing it.”
Being in American Idiot held additional meaning for Sajous as a New York City resident on September 11, 2001.
“I went to LaGuardia High School when the Twin Towers came down,” she said. “I remember the debris actually coming through the air…So when Green Day wrote this whole rock opera in response to what people were experiencing during that time of terror and hate and fear, I felt very much a part of that.”
Sajous takes her job as an artist seriously and believes that the job of an artist is to serve.
“Being an artist is a very selfless act, making ourselves available to people,” she said. “Our job is not only to serve, but to heal and tell stories.”
For the past seven years, Sajous has given her time to the Garden of Dreams Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works with The Madison Square Garden Company and MSG Networks, Inc. to positively impact the lives of children facing obstacles.
“Garden of Dreams gives kids the opportunity to perform at Radio City Music Hall as a singer, dancer, actor, poet, whatever they choose to do,” Sajous explained. “It’s their night to live their dream on that stage. I act as a mentor to these children to help build them up emotionally and help them prepare their material.”
Next for Sajous is working on a musical called Paradise Square, which debuted at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. The show will be directed Moisés Kaufman, with choreography by the Bill T. Jones, music by Jason Howland and Larry Kirwan and lyrics by Nathan Tysen. It is inspired by the songs of Stephen Foster.
“It is just a beautiful, dark story of survival and community and race and hate and empowerment,” Sajous said. “It’s a New York City story that takes place in the 1860s during the Civil War…It’s one of my passion projects that I’ve been waiting to come to New York City.”
Broadway Bounty Hunter closes on Aug. 18, so see it while you can at the Greenwich House Theater, 27 Barrow Street, NYC. For tickets, visit broadwaybountyhunter.com.