Tag Archives: Passing Strange

‘I’m talkin’ little Jimmy Baldwin, baby — you gotta go to Another Country if you wanna get to Giovanni’s Room

‘Passing Strange’ alums bring new work to the New York stage in celebration of James Baldwin

BaldwinSome of my readers may recognize the main headline of this post as a quote from the musical play “Passing Strange.”

It’s Mr. Franklin, the church choir director talking, sitting in a VW Bug with some of his musical charges, holding a “prayer circle” whose sacramental ritual involved smoking weed.

It was hardly the only touching moment in the 2008 Tony-winning musical, but it was one of the more memorable.

I often say, jokingly, that everything in my life somehow connects to “Passing Strange.” When I look at the artists and performances that have inspired me over the years since I first encountered the show in a developmental form then known as “Travelogue,” back around 2004, many of them are somehow connected to the existential musical play.

Later this month, three key members of the “Passing Strange” family — Stew, who wrote the book and lyrics and co-wrote the music with Heidi Rodewald, and actors from the original production Colman Domingo and Eisa Davis — and a slew of other notable writers and performers will be involved in the New York Live Arts “Live Ideas Festival: James Baldwin, This Time!”  (Tap or click here for schedule and ticket options.)

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Poland will never be the same after Ubu Sings Ubu

Ubu6

A dangerous man: Tony Torn as Pere Ubu at Joe’s Pub on March 25, 2014. (Photos © 2014, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

About midway through the show on March 25, the flabby, shirtless man on stage at Joe’s Pub — his face still bearing the image of the Polish eagle albeit runny with sweat — stepped out of character as Pere Ubu, the king of Poland.

It’s at this point in the show that I’d be introducing my special guest, said actor Tony Torn But I can’t, he added.

So he invited the audience to join him in a chant:

“Stew has flu. Stew has flu. Stew has flu….”

After chanting that a few times, any disappointment I might have been feeling about the absence of Stew, Tony Award-winning creator of “Passing Strange” and leader of the rock band The Negro Problem, vanished as Torn returned to character and carried on with the set.

Sure, it would have been nice to see Stew sit in with this talented band of actors and musicians. But he deserved to stay home and nurse his illness. And Torn and company managed to provide an extraordinarily entertaining evening without their announced special guest.

I had wondered how Stew fit into this mad plan of creating a band to cover Pere Ubu songs in character from from the Alfred Jarry’s 1896 French play “Ubu Roi.”

Torn, happily, answered the question from stage.

This show, “Ubu Sings Ubu,” wouldn’t have materialized at all if, some years ago, Stew hadn’t let Torn sing what he called “one of his crazy punk rock songs.”

He didn’t explain exactly when or how that occurred, so I can only guess it was in a workshop of some sort. Continue reading

Stew brings ‘The New Stew Review’ to 54 Below (Video)

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There’s still time to grab tickets to see Stew, the Tony Award-winning creator of Broadway’s wildest ride, “Passing Strange,” in the cabaret setting of Manhattan’s 54 Below on Friday or Saturday night.

Stew’s work speaks for itself. He’s created a great deal of thoughtful, memorable, and provocative songs for theater, with “Passing Strange” and other shows, and for clubs as a solo performer and with his band, The Negro Problem.

He’s been a favorite of mine for 15 years. His “New Stew Review” promises a preview of upcoming shows, along with old favorites. If experience is any guide, he’ll offer plenty of surprises.

A trip to 54 Below, in the cellar of Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street, Manhattan, can be a bit pricey. But Stew is worth it. Tickets for his shows, which start at 8 p.m., are $40-55, plus a $25 per person minimum. But use the code PUBLIC54 to get a reasonable discount.

Tickets and more information are available here.

Check out the video of Stew and co-creator Heidi Rodewald after the jump.

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Stew and Heidi to unveil works in progress in Brooklyn on Nov. 22 and 23

Heidi Rodewald and Stew, creators of Broadway's Passing Strange, are presenting a Brooklyn house party in November to share their works in progress.

Heidi Rodewald and Stew, creators of Broadway’s Passing Strange, are presenting a Brooklyn house party in November to share their works in progress.

Creators of Passing Strange and collaborators in The Negro Problem join the inaugural season at BRIC House

BRIC (Brooklyn Information and Culture), the organization behind the great Celebrate Brooklyn! concert series, is opening the BRIC Arts | Media House to provide a permanent stage for new and established artists to explore their work.

BRIC House, at 647 Fulton Street, next door to the BAM Harvey Theater, formally opens Oct. 3. And it already has a great lineup scheduled, including two-nights of creative mashups from Tony and OBIE Award winner Stew and longtime collaborator and OBIE Award winner Heidi Rodewald.

They’re the people behind Broadway’s Passing Strange and the core members of the band The Negro Problem.

In two performances in November, the pair will unveil a show that includes pieces of several projects they have in development, including three musicals, a video-art work, two song-cycles and poems and songs that likely will show up on their next record in some form.

More information and ticket links after the jump. Continue reading

Stew stirs things up with fantastic new songs at Barbès

The hat was more crumpled at Barbès on July 25, but Stew's energy was at a peak. (Photo © 2012, Steven P.  Marsh)

The hat was more crumpled than this at Barbès on July 25 and Stew’s energy level seemed higher than usual. (Photo © 2012, Steven P. Marsh)

By the time his latest gig in his musical living room (aka Park Slope, Brooklyn, boîte Barbès) rolled around Thursday night, July 25, singer-songwriter and Tony Award winner Stew had dumped his original staged plan to play versions of his songs from Passing Strange and other numbers from his extensive repertoire.

Instead, he launched into a tight song cycle “inspired by recent events.” In other words, songs about George Zimmerman and the Trayvon Martin case. If yoy don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s time to get out from under that rock where you’ve been living and catch up on the news!

If you’re a Passing Strange fan who passed on the show for one reason or another and are thinking now that this make you feel OK about missing, hold that thought. I’m here to tell you differently. Continue reading

Eisa Davis and The Cradle Will Rock — perfect together

cradleI saw the premiere
performance of the new Encores!
Off-Center
reading of The Cradle Will Rock at New York
City Center on Wednesday night. I didn’t spend a lot of time
analyzing casting decisions or reading up on this production. I
knew Anika Noni Rose,
Raúl Esparza and Danny
Burstein
were in key roles, but aside from that,
avoided reading about it. It was an effort to preserve an element of surprise. And
given that I’ve been spending som much time at Maxwell’s and other
rock events, there really wasn’t time. So what a pleasant
surprise when the curtain opened and there, front and
center, was Eisa Davis. It seemed
almost too perfect that an actor with a radical heritage (she’s a
niece of activist Angela
Davis
, a relationship Eisa explored in her
play Angela’s Mixtape) performing in a show
about union-busting and based on the timeless us-versus-them theme.
(Many theatergoers were introduced to Eisa through the Tony
Award-winning musical Passing
Strange
.)

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Stew and The Negro Problem returning to Barbès

UPDATE: Stew Sez Showtime’s now 9:30 p.m.

Photo from Stew's Facebook announcement of the upcoming gig at Barbès.

Photo from Stew’s Facebook announcement of the upcoming gig at Barbès.

There was a moment or two of confusion Thursday morning when Stew,the singer-songwriter and Tony winner for the book of Passing Strange posted on Facebook that he and his band, The Negro Problem, would be appearing two weeks from now at “our beloved Barbès” and included the date of Oct. 25.

Stew, Heidi and an incarnation of The Negro Problem at Barbés in 2011. (Photo © 2011, Steven P. Marsh)

Stew, Heidi and an incarnation of The Negro Problem at Barbés in 2011. (Photo © 2011, Steven P. Marsh)

Well, fans of Stew’s work won’t have to wait that long. Maybe Stew is just jonesing for Fall. But according to the Barbès calendar, it’s Thursday, July 25, at 10 p.m., which is in two weeks.

Whew. Glad I could clear that up.

Stew posted a Facebook update on Friday, July 19, saying showtime was changed to 9:30. So I’m getting there by 9 just to be on the safe side:

showtime for stew & the negro problem’s BARBES show this THURSDAY JULY 25th is now 9:30. We will play some songs inspired by recent events.

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Stew & The Negro Problem at Barbès: A refuge from the storm and a special surprise

Blizzard? Who cares, when there’s a chance to see Stew, Heidi and the gang in an intimate Brooklyn boîte

Stew and Heidi Rodewald perform with a version of their band, The Negro Problem, at Barbès in Park Slope, Brooklyn in March 2011. And yes, that's Joe McGinty in the foreground.  (Photo © 2011, Steven P. Marsh)

Stew and Heidi Rodewald perform with a version of their band, The Negro Problem, at Barbès in Park Slope, Brooklyn in March 2011. And yes, that’s Joe McGinty in the foreground. (Photo © 2011, Steven P. Marsh)

If the predicted nightmare blizzard doesn’t bring New York City to a screeching halt on Friday, you should be at  Barbès in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood to catch a surprisingly un-publicized gig by Stew & The Negro Problem.

(Click through to the jump for all the details.) Continue reading

Daniel Breaker and special guests played Joe’s Pub

Daniel Breaker and his crew at Joe's Pub. (Photos 2012, Steven P. Marsh)

Broadway star spices up his elegant cabaret set with help from fab up-and-comer Jo Lampert and Broadway vet Morgan James

The inimitable Daniel Breaker at Joe's Pub.

We’re hoping Daniel Breaker is going to be a regular on the Joe’s Pub stage. His performance there Sunday night, April 22 — his second cabaret show there — showcase the winning singer/actor even better than the first. He seemed more comfortable in his role as a front man, and less like an actor putting on a show.

Jo Lampert kills it at Joe's Pub, with drummer Christian Cassan in the background.

With the help of a dozen or so musical compatriots — including drummer Christian Cassan and music director/guitarist Jon Spurney from his time in the hit musical “Passing Strange” — Breaker put on a great show.

He sang original and classic cabaret numbers, and even dipped into rock with Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” charming the crowd all evening.

Breaker’s special guest vocalists once again gave him a run for his money. In Breaker’s last show at Joe’s, guest Condola Rashad  threatened to steal the spotlight altogether with her amazing power and charming stage persona.

Breaker clearly didn’t feel threatened. He chose equally intense guests for this show. Jo Lampert, who not long ago was a production assistant at Joe’s Pub and who was involved in the Public Theater’s incarnation of “Passing Strange,” blew the doors off with her rendition of Beyonce‘s “Halo,” and also filled in superbly on backing vocals.

Morgan James, currently in the cast of "Godspell" on Broadway, at Joe's Pub.

Morgan James, who’s in the ensemble with “Godspell” on Broadway, also did a great job.

Kelvin Dinkins Jr. and William Jackson Harper (a must-see in our book after his amazing work “The Total Bent” at the Public Theater) helped out on backing vocals.

Have you seen The Total Bent yet?

Stew, Heidi and members of The Loser's Lounge at Barbés in Park Slope, Brooklyn. (Photos © Steven P. Marsh)

Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? was supposed to see The Total Bent, the new show by Stew and Heidi Rodewald of Passing Strange fame, in one of its very first Public Lab performances at The Public Theater in downtown Manhattan last month. But then construction delays at the theater — the Public is undergoing a massive, and much-needed, facelift — got in the way.

That created some pretty massive chaos, forcing The Total Bent‘s schedule to push back. Some shows, including ours, were canceled and rebooked.

So we haven’t seen the show yet. We’ll be there for the penultimate performance on Sunday afternoon, March 18.

All the changes also forced the scuttling of interviews and press access to the creative team.

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