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Act it? Annie Golden of 'The Black Suits' has lived it

Annie Golden, once lead singer for punk band the Shirts in the 1970s, plays an eccentric former rock star in 'The Black Suits.'

November 03, 2013|By Jessica Gelt

In her role as a counterculture den mother to a group of suburban would-be rock stars in the new musical "The Black Suits," Annie Golden isn't just going through the motions. She knows rock 'n' roll.

The 62-year-old actress was the lead singer of the Brooklyn-based punk band the Shirts in the 1970s. She was discovered by director Milos Forman when the band was headlining the legendary East Village rock club CBGB, and he cast her in his 1979 film adaptation of "Hair."

Although she has acted on Broadway, in movies and on TV — including most recently on the hit Netflix series "Orange Is the New Black" — she still relates to her rebellious roots.

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Eight years ago, she was intrigued when she heard that a young musical theater writer named Joe Iconis wanted her to star in a new rock musical. This even though Iconis was at the time a graduate student in the musical theater writing program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts — and that the performance was to be graded.

Today Golden is involved in the same show but this time in a Center Theatre Group production at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

The afternoon following the first preview (the show opens Sunday), Golden gave a backstage tour leading to her dressing room, where she points to a picture of herself with Kirk Douglas on the set of the 2003 film "It Runs in the Family."

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"He said, 'I never miss an opportunity to take a picture with a pretty girl,'" says Golden, giggling, her voice high-pitched and sing-song, as though she has just sucked in helium. She's wearing knee-high black leather boots and a short black leather skirt with a matching jacket. Her strawberry blond hair is pulled back at the crown of her head in a sprightly ponytail.

It's hard to tell if she regularly dresses with such youthful verve or if she is paying homage to her character in "The Black Suits," but after speaking with Golden for about 10 minutes, it's clear it's the former. She is effervescent and upbeat and regularly salts her enthusiastic declarations with "yo" and "man."

"The Black Suits" is about teenagers in Long Island who start a band in the singer's garage. Like most youthful bands, the kids can only sort of play but have plenty of spunk and the songs have real heart.

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They have their sights set on rock 'n' roll fame, with the first step a win in a church-sponsored battle of the bands. But the trials of teendom — band, girl and family drama — inevitably get in the way.

Chris, the band's singer, turns to Golden's character, Mrs. Werring, for inspiration.

Werring, his neighbor, is an eccentric, pot-smoking ex-'70s rocker chick who wears long, sparkly jackets and tight satin pants. She claims to have been tight with David Bowie and the New York Dolls. She tells Chris to "Chillax" (urban dictionary vernacular for "chill" and "relax"), and in one of the show's most touching moments sings a song called "Band-Aids and Cigarettes." In the song she professes that those simple items are all that she is qualified to provide for the aching, lost boy.

"They're just kids finding themselves, and they meet this great, big, colorful kid, and she's younger than they'll ever be," Golden says later over coffee and a plate of corned beef hash and a single scrambled egg at the Culver City diner S&W, next door to the theater. "She just wants him to find his inner rock star."

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Finding her inner rock star has never been a problem for Golden, who endearingly refers to herself in the third person when she's excited.

"Annie Golden never forgets a face or a name," she says, rattling off the names of people she has worked with over the years, including in productions of Stephen Sondheim's "Assassins" and David Yazbek's "The Full Monty" as well as "Xanadu," "Mimi Le Duck," "Ah! Wilderness!" and "On the Town."

Although Golden is not the actual person Mrs. Werring is based on, she says that Iconis has said he wrote the part with her in mind. Indeed, her mannerisms in and out of character are remarkably similar. And when she talks about the show she often draws comparisons between her own experiences with the Shirts and what the boys are going through in the show.

"That was kind of like my 'Black Suits,'" she says of the Shirts, which rehearsed out of a storefront and sometime squat on 53rd Street and 7th Avenue in Brooklyn. "I really know the sensibility of growing up with people who, you know, music saved their lives. And rock music took me in a direction that, I wouldn't be here if I hadn't played CBGBs and Milos Forman didn't come on that night." 

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Despite her former accomplishments, Golden says she's never felt more successful.

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