On Oct. 26, actress Annie Golden celebrated one year of performances in hit Broadway musical, The Full Monty. That year was probably the most steady and conventional 12 months in what has been a distinctly eclectic and unconventional career. The Brooklyn native is probably the only performer in New York who is at home both on Broadway and at CBGB's, the legendary East Village rock club which launched the like of The Talking Heads, Television and other punk rock acts. Golden began her career as part of that raucous crowd, fronting an outfit called The Shirts. Her career took a major detour in 1977, when filmmaker Milos Forman cast her in one of the leads in his film version of Hair. Since then, she has embraced acting, finding most of her best roles on the New York stage. Her credits are all over the map, from the George C. Wolfe's Broadway revival of On the Town and late director Mike Ockrent's last assignment, the odd French farce, La Terresse, to Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme in the original Off-Broadway staging of Stephen Sondheim's Assassins and Adam Geuttel's song cycle, Saturn Returns. All the while, she's never severed her roots, teaming up with her former Shirts bandmates at downtown Manhattan clubs like the Bottom Line. During this fall alone, she developed a new story telling song-cycle with Peter Calandra, called Annie Golden's Velvet Prison at Joe's Pub in August; performed at CBGB's in September; and, on Oct. 29, took part The Worth Street Theater Company's "TriBeCa Playhouse Stage Door Canteen," a variety show that is open to the public but intended to entertain any and all rescue workers at Ground Zero. She spoke to Playbill On-Line during intermission at a The Fully Monty Wednesday matinee, listening to questions with one ear, while keeping the other ear pricked for her second act entrance cue.
Playbill On-Line: Tell me about this act you put together at Joe's Pub.
Annie Golden: How it came about is I wrote this song, "The Velvet Prison," in 1998 with a guy I grew up with in my rock band, The Shirts. He gave it to me as a piece of music with some lyrics, and I totally took it and delivered it back to him completed and completely unrecognizable to him. [Laughs] It was totally not the song he thought we were going to write. I suppose I had this song in me. As the perspective of the song started to develop, I thought, `Gee, I could take each lyric and do a little storytelling, like a mini-play, of a character.' And I investigate velvet prisons, which are those toxic situations that we find ourselves in that are more venom than velvet. And we don't get out of them, because we don't know how or don't know any better—or, we wouldn't have it any other way. The velvet prison for me is being an actor and being an artist; I wouldn't have it any other way, and there's nothing else I'd rather do, and sometimes it's not easy, but I chose it and I don't regret my choice for one minute.
PBOL: You started out as a musician and you became an actress. Do you love music more than acting?
AG: I've never loved music more than acting. In fact, the validation of that is Milos Forman having discovered me with my rock band at CBGB's and pulling me out of a rock band and making me a leading lady in a major motion picture ["Hair"]. I always saw music and singing as storytelling, as being the character and lyrics being the dialogue. I didn't have any training when Milos discovered me and I have not actually ever gone to an acting class. I've just had the wonderful experience that people have given me.
PBOL: How long had your rock band been going at the time Milos Foreman found you?
AG: We were fairly young. We grew up to together. [Foreman] found me in 1977, singing on the Bowery. I'm from Brooklyn—I'm actually from Prospect Park, and then I went to Bay Ridge and now I'm in Flatbush.
PBOL: You still get together with the band from time to time, don't you?
AG: When I was on Broadway in On the Town, a friend surfaced and he had lost his wife to breast cancer. So I got it into my head—all my friends from The Shirts were there in the audience—to do a reunion at CBGB's, where we began, and maybe raise some money. And it was packed and it was really a success. I had people from On the Town and Leader of the Pack and Contact and Phantom singing back-up with me. It was a lovely night. It was Broadway meets the Bowery. PBOL: During those early years, did you know the other punk rock bands well?
AG: Oh, yeah. I knew Joey [Ramone], I knew the Ramones. Actually, my boyfriend was the drummer for The Ramones at one point. I know The Talking Heads, I know Debbie Harry.
PBOL: Do they ever come to see you on Broadway?
AG: I don't run into them too much. Debbie I see at film openings. And I always go back to CBGB's. I've never forgotten.
PBOL: I can't think of anyone like you, with a foot in the theatre and the alternative rock scene.
AG: Well, thank you, Robert, because all my biker friends say to me, "You're the only one out of CBGB's who made a big splash and you still go back there, we love that!" [Laughs] I always call myself "The Illegitimate Child of the Legitimate Theatre." That's my story. And whenever we do post show discussions, all the kids with the credentials—Carnegie-Mellon or NYU master class—always defer to me. They say, "No, Annie's is the story you want to hear." It's kind of like Lana Turner at the drug store counter.
PBOL: The Full Monty is about the biggest stage hit you've been in so far.
AG: I'm not equipped for this. I'm a veteran, but I'm a veteran of limited runs and flops! [Laughs] This is the first time I've ever created something from the very first workshop and it has gone to Broadway and been a success.
PBOL: Among the other theatrical credits you have, are there some favorites?
AG: I've had a totally eclectic career, but if you think about it, I've had the most prestigious names in my life. I did Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! with Colleen Dewhurst, Jason Robards, Elizabeth Wilson, George Hearn, Campbell Scott, Jamey Sheridan. I worked with Stephen Sondheim in Assassins.
PBOL: How did you feel about the recent plans to revive that on Broadway?
AG: I found that very validating. It seems like everything I've ever done in my career is being brought back. They revived Hair at Encores!, they wanted to bring Assassins to Broadway and a tour of Leader of the Pack just went out. I felt [Assassins] got a bum rap. Stephen [Sondheim] and Jerry [Zaks] did think we would go to Broadway, but we didn't get to.
PBOL: Because the Gulf War started during the Off-Broadway run.
AG: That's true. That was the end of us. That's for sure. We used to get booed. Going to London during the height of the punk scene, people would boo you and throw things at you. But I had never dealt with that in theatre. Theatre was always very elegant and very respectful. When I came out to take my curtain call on the night they found out we were at war, they booed us. So then the playwrights set up a post-show discussion every night, and Stephen would always say, "Is Annie going to sit in? Is Annie going to sit in?" Because I'd always make the analogy that I played Jeannie the flower child in "Hair," and now I'm playing the flip side of that era—the drug culture, the obsession, the sexual manipulation of "Squeaky" Fromme. [She gets her cue to go on stage] Oh—I have to go! I'm taking my rollers out. Goodbye.
—By Robert Simonson