Monthly Archives: August 2009

A Passing Strange week

Stew and Heidi at Lincoln Center Out of Doors. (Photos copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

Stew and Heidi Rodewald at Lincoln Center Out of Doors. (Photos copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

What a Passing Strange week it’s been. First Stew and Heidi Rodewald hit the Walter Reade Theater for a talk about creative partnerships, something we’ve already talked about here. Then came The Broadway Problem show in Damrosch Park on Wednesday. And then the crowning event: The theatrical premiere of Spike Lee‘s film version of Passing Strange at the IFC Center yesterday.

For a guy who often says he knows nothing about Broadway musicals, Stew did a good job of demonstrating otherwise at Lincoln Center Out of Doors on Wednesday night. Stew, with the help of Heidi and a dozen guest musicians, did almost exactly what was promised in the promotional blurb written months before planning out their free show at Damrosch Park Bandshell — they deconstructed a raft of Broadway tunes.

Paul Oakley Stovall and Eisa Davis.

Paul Oakley Stovall and Eisa Davis.

They tackled the the gamut from “Nobody,” a tune in the 1906 show Abyssinia by Bert Williams, the early 20th Century’s greatest black entertainer, to a mashup of “Big Black Man” from The Full Monty and “Black Boys” from Hair (done in hilarious Sudabey-from-PassingStrange-style by de’Adre Aziza) , the musical choices were full of dark humor and biting wit. And the arrangements and deconstructions put them in an entirely new light.

Stew and Heidi called in friends from many parts of their careers to help out. Singing friends from Passing Strange onstage in addition to d’Adre, included Lawrence Stallings (Youth understudy) and Eisa Davis (mother). Chivas Michael, who played Flute and Peaseblossom in the fabulous Connecticut production of  A Midsummer Nights Dream for which Stew wrote the music, and singer/actor/playwright Paul Oakley Stovall, a friend from the early days of Passing Strange, also lent their voices to the effort.

Lawrence Stallings and de'Adre Aziza.

Lawrence Stallings and de'Adre Aziza.

Players included drummer Marty Beller, a longtime collaborator of Stew and Heidi (“Marty’s was the first couch I crashed on in New York,” said Stew upon introducing him) and Joe McGinty‘s Losers Lounge crew and a few others.

Stew maintained his tradition of sarcasm and lies (albeit with a sly wink) by completely misidentifying composers and shows just to mess up with the audience. He said repeatedly referred to one African-American composer as Vietnamese, and called another a Cambodian novelist. (My memory fails me at the moment, but one was Fats Waller and the other Duke Ellington, though there’s some dispute as to which was which.

He credited Cole Porter’s “Too Darn Hot”  to The Fantastiks and introduced “Magic to Do” from Pippin as a Bertolt Brecht-Kurt Weill number.

Although he threw in some pop tidbits (Stevie Wonder’s “She’s a Bad Mamma Jamma”), mostly he tackled classics, like “Summertime,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing),” “Feelin’ Good” (popularized by Nina Simone) from The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd and even “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music.

They only thing they didn’t touch on was any of Stew and Heidi’s music — either from Passing Strange or from their The Negro Problem/Stew back catalogue.

The evening got off to an amazing start with Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq‘s erotically charged performance. Her sound is at moments gutteral, or wailing, or moaning, resembling nothing less than an onstage orgasm.

Tanya Tagaq

Tanya Tagaq

There are only two days left in the Lincoln Center Out of Doors schedule, but they are chock full of great stuff. And everything’s free.

Meanwhile, Friday’s premiere of the Passing Strange movie was absolutely magical. The packed audience at the 9:20 pm show was clearly blown away by the  movie, and gave the creators and cast, who spoke after the screening, a standing ovation.

For someone like me, who saw the show many times in various incarnations, the movie is a fantastic document of a moment in the show’s life — a near-perfect distillation of a life-changing experience.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, make a point of doing so — soon. It’s too important to miss.

Last night, Eisa described Passing Strange as “a myth,”  a story that makes you think about who you are and forces you to confront what it means to life and to die. It’s not about race, it’s not about rock and roll, it’s not about drugs, even though all of those themes are in it.

Eisa is right. It is a myth in its own right.

The Passing Strange team at the IFC Center, from left: producer Steve Klein, Stew, de'Adre Aziza, Heidi Rodewald, Eisa Davis, Chad Goodridge, Colman Domingo and Daniel Breaker.

The Passing Strange team at the IFC Center, from left: producer Steve Klein, Stew, de'Adre Aziza, Heidi Rodewald, Eisa Davis, Chad Goodridge, Colman Domingo and Daniel Breaker.

Stew and Heidi tackle The Broadway Problem

The Damrosch Park Bandshell stage could hardly contain the full forces of Stew and Heidi: The Broadway Problem on Wednesday night.  (Photos copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

The Damrosch Park Bandshell stage could hardly contain the full forces of Stew and Heidi: The Broadway Problem on Wednesday night. (Photos copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

Stew and Heidi Rodewald took on Broadway at Lincoln Center Out of Doors on Wednesday night, and Broadway was no match for them. I’m posting pictures now, with words to follow soon.

Stew and Heidi — too much space between them!

Stew and Heidi — too much space between them!

Meanwhile, don’t forget: The Spike Lee film version of Passing Strange on Broadway hits the big screen at the IFC Center in NYC today! Even if you’ve seen the show as many times as I have, you need to see the movie — to get a new perspective on it and to support Stew and Heidi. Be there!

Stew was in a great mood.

Stew was having a good time.

Life is a mistake that only art can correct

Heidi Rodewald, Stew, moderator Wendy Bounds, Bill T. Jones and Bjorn G. Amelan at Summer Scoops Live last night. (Copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

Heidi Rodewald, Stew, moderator Wendy Bounds, Bill T. Jones and Bjorn G. Amelan at Summer Scoops Live on Aug. 18. (Photos copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

The question on the table was: “Why would people pay $25 to hear Stew and Heidi talk when there are talks after screenings all weekend?”

I have to admit that was my first thought when I heard about Tuesday night’s Wall Street Journal Summer Scoops panel discussion held at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater with Stew and Heidi Rodewald, creators of the musical Passing Strange,  and the creative team behind the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company — founder/choreograper Bill T. Jones, set designer Bjorn G. Amelan and associate artistic director Janet Wong.

WSJ StewHeidi

Heidi Rodewald and Stew.

After all, the Spike Lee film version of Passing Strange on Broadway does hit the big screen at the IFC Center in NYC on Friday.  Stew and Heidi will be talking aplenty at those early screenings. And they’ll be playing a free show at Lincoln Center Out of Doors in Damrosch Park on tonight — so what good’s talk when it’s really all about music, or the music of notes and words, for those two?

And the sparse turnout suggested that many fans may have felt the same way.

But the answer is simple: You won’t get the deeply real interaction between the Passing Strange team and Jones and his colleagues at those post-movie talks. And that alone made the discussion worth the price of admission. If you thought about going and skipped it, you missed something truly special.

I was blown away by the honest, revealing discussion. There were  connections made onstage between those two creative teams and between them and the audience that were, while not out of the blue, deep and I hope lasting. (As Stew wrote in Passing Strange: “The wire got connected. The mistake got corrected.”)

I saw Passing Strange 12 times at the Public Theater, and four times on Broadway. I’ve been a fan of Stew and Heidi for 10 years. I’ve been one of 15 people in the audience week after week for their residency in the grungy basement of the Knitting Factory. But I have never heard them have such frank discussions about their art as they did with Bill on Tuesday night.

That’s not to say those conversations have never happened before. Passing Strange wouldn’t exist without a series of creative collisions and collaborative head-butting. But I’ve never seen such a magical level of public connection between two creative powerhouses like that before.

Some of Stew’s best lines:

The advantage of being a songwriter in a rock and roll band is that we can contradict ourselves mid-verse.”

“Relax your ego? That’s like saying relax your penis!”

“I don’t believe in authenticity or truth. I make shit up and string words together cause they sound good…it’s not philosophy, not a teaching piece.”

“Meaning is boring.”

WSJ Bill T

Bill T. Jones, with moderator Wendy Bounds.

And Bill had some great ones, too:

“This life is a real motherfucker. And if you aren’t careful, they will fuck you up. And we can go into who they are later!”

“Art is a fight.”

And then there was Bill’s revelation that he may have lost some of his fire to do more work and his admission that, at age 57, he’s experiencing “spiritual malaise” and needs to rethink how he creates art.

Some in the audience thought the talk got a bit “squirmy” when Bill talked about the link between creative partnerships and sex, and admitted that although ” I’m a hom…uh, gay man.” he had thought about sleeping with Wong, his collaborator. (For her part, she said, “I would have said no and forgotten about it.”)

In the end, moderator Wendy Bounds showed a clip from the last scene of Passing Strange, in which Youth (Stew’s theatrical alter ego) ponders the death of his mother:

“That’s it? You know, you’re right, you cannot bring her back. But why lose faith in the only thing that can? I will see her again… Because life is a mistake… that only art can correct.”

That clip gave Bill his chance to ask Stew one of the most provocative questions of the evening:

“Do you believe that?” Bill asked.

Stew started to reply. Words came, but he never really answered the question — perhaps because there is no answer. But instead of being frustrating, it seemed appropriate. After all, “the real is not real, my friend. The real is a construct. The real is a creation. The real is artificial. … Some people feel like art is more real than life.”

Fela! tickets on sale — complete with discount code

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Fela!, the fantastic musical that set the off-Broadway world on fire with its fantastic portrayal of the legendary Nigerian originator of Afrobeat, is moving to Broadway in just two months.

The high-energy bio-musical, created by choreographer Bill T. Jones, hits the Eugene O’Neil Theatre starting Oct. 19.

Be sure to explore the show’s new, information-packed web site for more information.

Tickets are on sale now. And fans can get good seats at a discount. Use discount code FE4FANS to get seats at preview performances through Nov. 21 for just $52 (regularly $97), or tickets to shows from Dec. 1-Jan. 31 for $67 instead of the usual $110-$120. The usual fine print applies — no discounts for Saturday evening shows and during Thanksgiving week, etc. Click here for all the details and to buy tickets.

Satan and Adam bring it back home tomorrow night

Satan and Adam on the streets of Harlem.

Satan and Adam on the streets of Harlem.

The story of Satan and Adam is one rich in rebirth.

The duo, who got together in 1986 on the streets of Harlem share a gritty and spirited vision of the blues. They made their name busking on the streets, with Mister Satan on guitar and kickboard percussion and Adam Gussow on blues harmonica. But after many tours and three studio albums, they virtually disappeared. Adam, a native of Rockland County, N.Y.,  went on to teach, winding up in the English Department at the University of Mississippi and Mister Satan virtually disappeared. It turns out Mister Satan, whose real name is Sterling Magee from Mount Olive, Miss., had some personal problems that led to a nervous breakdown.

But the fate that brought them together in Harlem and then tore them cruelly apart has brought them back together. They’re wrapping up a short road trip tomorrow night (Saturday, Aug. 15) on Adam’s home turf — The Turning Point in Piermont.

Adam Gussow

Adam Gussow

This could well be our last chance to see the duo here in the Metro area, as the state-run home where Satan lives is tightening its rules. He is only allowed to leave for a few days at a time, making it all but impossible for them to arrange lengthy road trips.

Tonight’s show starts at 8 o’clock at The Turning Point, 468 Piermont Ave. Piermont, N.Y.  (845) 359-1089. Tickets are $20.

In anticipation of Satan and Adam’s gig at The Turning Point, Adam spoke to Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? about the duo’s meeting, breakup and reunion. The full interview appears after the jump.

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The unknown Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan or homeless man?

Bob Dylan or homeless man?

Can you believe that Bob Dylan was mistaken for a homeless man on the streets of Long Branch, N.J.?

The crazy story, in which a cop swept the eccentric singer-songerwriter off the street into a patrol car, is reported by’s Chris Francescani:

Dylan, 68, one of the most celebrated, eccentric artists in American history, was in the area on July 23 as part of a national concert tour — a fact lost on 24-year-old Long Branch police officer Kristie Buble.

To hear the young New Jersey police officer describe it, the scene was like something out of one of Dylan’s epic song-poems: It was pouring rain, Dylan was soaked and wandering alone, far from the traveling home of his entourage of tour buses.

When Dylan wandered into the yard of a home that had a “For Sale” sign on it, the home’s occupants became spooked by his appearance and called police with a report of an “eccentric-looking old man” in their yard, Long Branch Police said. One of the occupants even went so far as to follow Dylan as he continued on down the street.

To read the whole, wacky story, click here.

Stew and Heidi, 25 percent off!

Sometimes it pays to wait!

If you haven’t booked tickets yet for the Summer Scoops Live With the Wall Street Journal talk by Passing Strange co-creators Stew and Heidi Rodewald, or maybe, like Stew, you just couldn’t believe anybody would pay $25 to hear them gab, you stand to come out ahead.

There’s a new offer out today giving a 25-percent discount to the pARTners talk at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater at 7 pm on Tuesday, Aug. 18.

Enjoy the fruits of procrastination while you can. Here are the details:

Stew Opens Up with The Wall Street Journal at Lincoln Center!-

Take 25% off a rousing discussion titled pARTners, which explores the pleasures and pitfalls of artistic partnerships on August 18 at 7:00 P. M. in the Walter Reade Theater. Use promotion code WSJ10 to receive this special discount when purchasing online or calling 212.721.6500.

For tickets, click here.

The evening’s conversation features Stew and Heidi Rodewald, the co-creators of the Tony-winning Broadway rock musical Passing Strange and longtime collaborators in the band The Negro Problem; Artistic Director Bill T. Jones, Associate Artistic Director Janet Wong, and Creative Director Bjorn Amelan of the legendary Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. Reporter Wendy Bounds of The Wall Street Journal leads the discussion.

Program, artists, dates, and prices subject to change. This offer is subject to availability and may be revoked at any time. May not be combined with any other offers or discounts. Not applicable to previously purchased tickets. All sales are final—no refunds or exchanges. Limit four tickets per customer.

Stew & Heidi present The Broadway Problem at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, August 19. For details, click here.

Can American Idiot become the next Passing Strange?


Does lightning strike twice in the theater world?

Berkeley Repertory Theater (Berkeley Rep) is  about to find out. The California nonprofit theater group, which played a significant role in the development of the cult musical hit Passing Strange (forever preserved as a Spike Lee Joint coming to big screens and PBS soon) is now in rehearsal for a musical version of American Idiot, based on the multiplatinum Green Day album. Tickets for performances, which start Sept. 4, are already on sale on Berkeley Rep’s web site.

It seems like a smart, but cynical, move.

Passing Strange, written by Stew and Heidi Rodewald, who toiled separately and together on the Los Angeles rock scene for years (Wednesday Week, The Negro Problem, Stew),wrote a musical based loosely on Stew’s autobiography. They produced a fresh and compelling story that scored many loyal adherents (I’m one of them) and won massive praise from critics. But that loyal core, the show’s built-in audience, wasn’t enough to fill the seats of Broadway’s Belasco Theater eight times every week for too long.

At heart, Passing Strange is a very personal and unconventional show. And, frankly, I don’t think anyone ever figured out how to market it to the tourist-heavy Broadway audience. (For Stew and Heidi’s sake, that may have been a good thing, as they have been incredibly productive in the year since Passing Strange closed. Monica Drake of The New York Times covered this territory here.)

green-day-american-idiot American Idiot, on the other hand, has a huge built-in audience. The album has sold more than 14 million copies since its release nearly four years ago. As much as I love Stew and Heidi’s music, I know that number dwarfs the total number of albums that pair have sold in their careers.

Sales figures don’t necessarily correlate to quality. And both sets of performers have their fans. But it’s clear that American Idiot — like the long-running Mama Mia, a jukebox Abba musical — has a huge advantage over something like Passing Strange simply on brand recognition alone.

But producers of the Green Day musical are taking no chances. They’ve stacked the deck with heavy-hitters, including plenty of Broadway talent:

The show was adapted from the rock opera concept album by Green Day vocalist-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer, the Tony-winning director of Spring Awakening, who’s also directing American Idiot.

Rebecca sharpened

Rebecca Naomi Jones in Passing Strange on Broadway

The musical has no book, per se, but its story is told in song. Tom Kitt, from Broadway’s Next to Normal, handled arranging duties, while Steven Hoggett, of Black Watch, has worked out the dancing.

And the cast of 19 is led by John Gallagher Jr. as Johnnie. Gallagher was Moritz in Spring Awakening. Producers even someone from Passing Strange, Rebecca Naomi Jones, to play Whatshername.

It seems doubtful that American Idiot can achieve the white-hot, deeply personal impact that Passing Strange had. But it sounds a heckuva lot easier to market. And that could well be the key to a long and successful run.

Two chances to see Stew and Heidi live in NYC before Passing Strange hits the big and small screens

Heidi Rodewald and Stew

Heidi Rodewald and Stew

Next week is a big week for Strange Freaks.

First, on Tuesday, Stew and Heidi Rodewald, the creators of the musical Passing Strange and longtime collaborators in the rock band The Negro Problem, are making a public appearance to talk about their artistic partnership joys and concerns of their longtime artistic partnership Summer Scoops Live with The Wall Street Journal. wsj_header_events

On a porgram titled pARTners, They’ll talk with WSJ reporter Wendy Bounds before an audience at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center. Also involved in the conversation are the creative team behind the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Artistic Director Bill T. Jones — who’s bringing his own musical, Fela!, to Broadway this fall — Associate Artistic Director Janet Wong and Creative Director Bjorn Amelan. The talk starts at 7 pm on Tuesday, Aug. 18, at the Walter Reade, 165 West 65th Street, Manhattan. General admission tickets are still available and cost $25. Buy them here.

Then, on the following night, Stew and Heidi return to make music at Lincoln Center Out of Doors as Stew and Heidi Present: The Broadway Problem. The show in Damrosch Park, at the southwest corner of the Lincoln Center Campus at West 62nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, opens with a set by Nunavit throat singer Tanya Tagaq. Admission to the outdoor concert is free and starts at 7 pm.

Keep reading for even more news about Stew and Heidi.

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Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?

More than a few people have wondered where the name of this blog comes from.

Am I depressed, or just dark?

None of the above. I just love music.

If you’ve read the About page, you already know that the name of this blog is lifted directly from a Carter Family song.

Because Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? is getting a lot of hits because of my coverage of Asphalt Orchestra and Lincoln Center Out of Doors, I figured now was a good time to give you a taste of the timeless tune. So much of American popular music stems from the Carter Family that it seemed appropriate to use one of their songs as a sort of theme for this blog about music, theater, art — all forms of the arts — and life in general.

So here’s an Emmylou Harris version of the Carter Family classic. Enjoy: