As this year's Tony nominations for musicals indicate, Broadway is making a serious push for younger audiences. Passing Strange—which along with In the Heights is at the center of this thrust—is a curious hybrid: part rock/blues/jazz opera, with the 21 numbers tied together by an everpresent musical through line, and part narrative autobiographical tale, the story of its creator, Stew (who co-composed the score with his wife, Heidi Rodewald, the bass player in the band).
Stew's honesty detailing his roots as a middle-class black from LA lends humor and universality to a colorblind coming-of-age identity search, which leads him from Southern California to Amsterdam to Berlin and back.
|Stew and Daniel Breaker|
Photo: Carol Rosegg
Bearing a similar measure of idealism and guilt to his white bourgeouis counterparts, the protagonist passes himself off as a subversive from South Central and makes hay as a musician in Europe, first with the Dutch free love set ("They're so non-chalant about what I want ...") and later with a collective of Gothic vandals in the German capitol.
Stew deftly avoids the common narcissistic pitfalls proximate to the pop music scene and autobiographical epics with a genuine sense of his own shortcomings and a dramatic arc tied to his realization that he's been running from love ("He turns away right when it was starting to feel real ..." and "My song was just passing for love ...").
|(L to R)Chad Goodridge and Daniel Breaker|
(background) Stew and Eisa Davis
Photo: Carol Rosegg
In addition to Stew and the folks in the pit, the cast of six singers/dancers/actors exhibit impressive agility cutting across musical styles and cultural idioms. Passing Strange is up for seven Tonys, after garnering a slew of awards during its off-Broadway run, including the New York Drama Critic's Circle Awards for "Best Musical," the Village Voice Obie Award for "Best New Theatre Piece," and the Drama Desk Award for "Outstanding Musical."
Tickets for Passing Strange are currently on sale through July 27th at the Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St., NY, NY. 212-239-6200.