ArtsBeatLA

Exclusive Interview: Singer/Actor Annie Golden

Annie Golden is one of those fortunate performers who’s managed to do it all — stage, film, concerts and television. From CBGB to Hair to Sondheim, right up to her latest show, she’s accomplished much in a career that spans more than four decades. Annie recently gave ArtsBeat LA an interview to reflect upon her life in showbiz and bring us up to speed on what she’s doing currently.

ArtsBeat LA: What was the inspiration that made you want to get into this crazy biz in the first place?

Annie Golden: I did not get into this crazy biz…it got into me. A life in the theater or film or television or recording studio was actually a dream I dared NOT dream! Ever since I would watch The Million Dollar Movie as a young girl with my dad. The film would be repeated each night for a week. I would commit the movies and their casts and their storylines and songs to memory as best I could. The choreography I never attempted as I do today. I just admired the grace of the dancers from afar.

Tell us a bit about your time as the lead singer for the NYC punk band The Shirts. What was the scene like at CBGB? And the later Golden-Carillo?

Annie in The Shirts.

CBGB’s scene was a no frills, grassroots, down and dirty bare bones existence of pure creativity and originality and freedom. I think of it as the Beatles playing at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. When you are in the midst of something special, you often don’t realize its importance. It certainly was an exciting time of dreams coming true for musicians hoping to get a record deal.

It was a home base, a headquarters for many of us, and so it was when I began to write songs for my guy-girl singer/songwriter unplugged duo, Golden-Carillo. In the ’90’s, I returned to the mainstage as well as the CBGB Canteen next door, where the now world-famous venue had expanded to, for a more intimate in-concert experience.

How many albums are you on?

I have recorded Live At CBGB’s, which was a compilation done as a service to those of us bands that had not yet been signed by a record label, then for Capitol/EMI in London I recorded The Shirts’ first [self-titled] album. Then our second, Streetlight Shine, was recorded at home in NYC. Finally in L.A. at the historic Capitol Records studio, our third record [Inner Sleeve], which closed out the ’80’s.

Golden-Carillo was signed to SilenZ Records out of Amsterdam in the Netherlands where The Shirts had had their greatest popularity. We recorded three CDs: A Fire in New Town, Toxic Emotion and Back for More.

In 2018, I recorded my first ever solo EP, Annie Golden: Friends and Family (Live at the Cutting Room, NYC). It’s available on CD Baby, Spotify, and iTunes. There’s also 40 years of footage on YouTube to see it all.  Then there are cast albums from shows and films as well.

Hair has followed you throughout your career. What makes that piece so immortal? And who would you like to play today?

Annie as Jeanie in Hair.

Hair is immortal because it was ahead of its time and resonates in today’s turbulent climate as much as it did when it changed the face of theater in 1968. The movie, 42 years old, is still valid today with its much-needed message of harmony and understanding.

Hair is revolutionary and has always been. Its very concept is inclusive, diverse, sexually fluid and gender-bending. I’d like to play today whichever tribe member sings the duet: “What A Piece of Work Is Man” (very Norma Romano, don’t you think?). [Composer] Galt MacDermot used Shakespeare’s poetry and put it to music! I even posted recently, quoting: “I have of late, though, wherefore, I know not, lost all my mirth” to eloquently tell my followers that I was feeling so sad about the state we are in now!

You also did your Sondheim phase as Squeaky Fromme in Assassins. What did you think of that experience?

If Sondheim was ever gonna write a song for a soprano to sing and cast me, she had BETTER be called “Squeaky.” That experience was intimidating and exhilarating. To this day, I cannot believe my good fortune: I am an original Stephen Sondheim leading lady thanks to Assassins!

The off-Broadway cast of Assassins with Annie (far left) as Squeaky Fromme.

What medium is your favorite? Stage, film, television or music?

My favorite medium? My best form of expression would be fronting my band, Annie Golden: Friends and Family, singing my own songs — using everything I have learned from all facets of my blessed, busy body of work!

You were Margaret O’Keefe, Cliff Clavin’s (John Ratzenberger) girlfriend on Cheers for a few episodes. How was it working with that famous cast?

Cheers was a wonderful experience as well. I was offered the role of Margaret O’Keefe. It was written for me and that was an exquisite situation. Their brilliant casting director, Jeff Greenberg, was a champion of mine (cast Modern Family!).

When I was in L.A. looking for work about a year before this offer surfaced, I was invited to have a general meeting and he took me around Paramount to meet writers and directors and producers. First there was a Dear John episode and then I returned to Cheers as Maggie O’Keefe for three fun-filled episodes! First as a love interest to Cliff Clavin, then I met Cliff’s mom, Frances Sternhagen, and then finally, Maggie returns with child! Those people were glorious to work with and spoiled me for the rest of my career.

What’s your favorite role? And what role do you want to play but still haven’t played yet?

My favorite role was, for a time, Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors. She was the romantic lead, you see, and I was always the sidekick and comedy relief character woman. I was the last Audrey to be put in by Howard Ashman in the original run at the Orpheum Theatre on the Lower East Side. It was 1985 into 1986, and I was so happy to be playing her!

But when I got to work with the brilliant Terrence McNally, who was one of the first of our Broadway family to succumb to COVID-19, Audrey was replaced with yet another wonderful lovelorn lady, Georgie Bukatinsky, standing by her man in Buffalo, New York, in The Full Monty. It was my second time being entrusted with originating a lead role in a brand new musical.

I got to work with first-time Broadway composer, David Yazbek, who had his own band near the end of CBGB’s called Urban Blight. His drummer and horn section followed him to our Broadway Orchestra Pit at the Eugene O’Neill and into the studio for our original cast album.

My cast LPs are: the Hair film soundtrack, Leader of the Pack, Assassins, The Full Monty, Xanadu, Violet and Broadway Bounty Hunter.

Auntie Mame is a role I would love to play with or without music, since I have aged out of Peter Pan and Saint Joan! Rosalind Russell is an idol of mine. That Jerry Herman score is wonderful!

The multifaceted entertainer talks about her storied career.
Annie as Norma in Orange is the New Black (Jessica Miglio/Netflix)

Your latest, and probably longest-running role, is Norma Romano in Orange is the New Black. What can you tell us about working on that show and your character? How is it working for Netflix versus an established TV network? Any difference? Is streaming the future?

Network television has limitations on content: violence, language, sexual situations, but Netflix and other fresh, new outlets are free to do what they like. Less censorship than network channels — that’s been my experience.

I was lucky to be part of a groundbreaking project that put Netflix on the media map with Orange is the New Black. I don’t have Netflix. I don’t stream. I just live for TCM and other channels that have original content like HBO, Showtime and AMC. Recently during this lockdown, I have been involved with ZOOM presentations of plays and musicals, singing to pre-recorded playback. Art will find a way!

I have two podcasts available out now with stunning music: first is It Makes a Sound — eight episodes for Night Vale Presents. Then I most recently recorded (while being shut in) Bleeding Love on Broadway Podcast Network — three stunning episodes with gorgeous orchestrations. It is an apocalyptic fairy tale about being too scared to leave your home!

You’ve made some interesting choices as far as film roles go. What drives you to take parts in such diverse movies as Desperately Seeking Susan, 12 Monkeys and Longtime Companion?

The films you mentioned were early on in my career and like I confessed, this career chose me. I don’t select roles to do, I auditioned like everybody else. Norma Romano from Orange has changed that process somewhat.

What about Joe Iconis and the musical he wrote for you, Broadway Bounty Hunter? What’s the backstory there?

Broadway Bounty Hunter is my proudest work to date. You can find our wonderful cast album online. I believe Joe Iconis gave me this gorgeous gift of a love letter to a woman of a certain age. I am so appreciative to have this young composer, who is making a name for himself, taking me along with him and creating a showcase for every color in my rainbow to shine!

I met him at the Tisch NYU master program for musical theater and he wrote a nosy neighbor lady role for me in his now legendary piece about a teenage garage band, The Black Suits. The role was Mrs. Werring and this was before Orange is the New Black. I am proud to say that no one has ever played Mrs. Werring but me in all productions so far.

I had one song when we did his black box thesis presentation for his grade and then before we presented, he wrote me a lovely lament. When we did it at Barrington Stage one summer, he wrote yet another great anthem for the two women in the piece to sing together….it just gets better and better for me!

Who are other actors and singers you admire?

As I I mentioned, Roz Russell and I used to put in my Playbill bio, since I did not have many credits then: “Annie admires the Judys: Garland and Holliday.” Actually, going back to my Million Dollar Movie days, I admired those pop stars who did musicals, dramas and comedy and also recorded and gave concerts like Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and David Bowie.

I loved Edith Piaf, too. When I worked with Sondheim, he asked me who I listened to and I actually referenced Kate Bush. I believe he sampled the English chanteuse and composer since he came back with the “Unworthy Of Your Love” duet in which Squeaky must sing like an angel and then a banshee.

Annie in Broadway Bounty Hunter (photo: Scott Burrow).

What do you think about the current state of Broadway theater? Will we make it?

Current status of Broadway? Who can say? The public has no idea how close things are backstage and in the wings and in the staircases and in the orchestra pits. Nor should they. We are in the business of making magic. It’s best they don’t know how cramped we are behind the curtain. We are selling glamour and that is what we present. The old razzle dazzle! We act like it is effortless and easy breezy. We act like anyone could step in and get the job done. In fact, that is the biggest acting job we do! Ha! I know our audience is shoulder to shoulder/elbow to elbow as well, so things will have to change but I believe…ART WILL FIND A WAY!

What can we expect next from Annie Golden?

I am delighted to say that blessings abound for me. When this lockdown happened, as I said I did the podcast Bleeding Love, and that is going strong and getting wonderful attention. I also had a guest spot on the pilot of HBO’s Run so that aired also. I had the opportunity to do my own episode of High Maintenance that they wrote for me before all of this came about. In October I wrapped on a new series for FOX-TV called Filthy Rich,
 which is Kim Cattrall’s return to series television.

My scene partners were Gerald McRaney and Juliette Lewis. It was written and directed by Tate Taylor who adapted the book to screenplay and directed The Help, Get On Up, The Girl on the Train and Ma. It is scheduled, I understand, to air on FOX-TV during their fall line-up. I hope the fans like 
it.

I got to fly three times to New Orleans. I spent my birthday in a field of sugar cane in Vacherie, Louisiana. Now that is certainly magical for a working class Catholic schoolgirl from Brooklyn, New York!

Feature photo by Leland Bobbe.

Kurt Gardner

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