‘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.)

I’ve talked about New York Live Arts before. It’s the venue at 219 West 19th Street in Manhattan where Cynthia Hopkins staged her latest performance piece.

Daniel Breaker, Stew, Christian Gibbs and Eisa Davis onstage at the final Broadway performance of "Passing Strange." (© 2008, Steven P. Marsh)

Daniel Breaker, Stew, Christian Gibbs and Eisa Davis onstage at the final Broadway performance of “Passing Strange.” (© 2008, Steven P. Marsh)

Colman Domingo (© 2008, Steven P. Marsh)

Colman Domingo (© 2008, Steven P. Marsh)

On April 23 and 24, look for the fabulous Colman Domingo, the original Mr. Franklin, working with Patricia MacGregor in a staging of  “Nothing Personal,” based on Baldwin’s collaboration with photographer Richard Avedon. (The two

On April 24, Eisa Davis, who originated the role of Mother in in “Passing Strange,” will participate in a free noontime Baldwin reading that also features Laurie Anderson, Kathleen Chalfant, André DeShields, Jesse L. Martin, Tonya Pinkins, Billy Porter II and Toshi Reagon. (Be sure to check out the full schedule, as there are four other readings featuring equally interesting presenters.)

Carl Hancock Rux (© 2011, Steven P. Marsh)

Carl Hancock Rux (© 2011, Steven P. Marsh)

On April 25, Stew brings a taste of his new work “Notes of a Native Song” to the stage. He slated to talk about the piece — commissioned by Harlem Stage and set to premiere there in June 2015 — and his journey into the world of Baldwin.

On April 26, Carl Hancock Rux (who has no direct link to “Passing Strange” that I know of but is a gifted playwright and performer), previews his “Stranger on Earth,” a piece that imagines a chance meeting between Baldwin and jazz singer Dinah Washington in a Harlem jazz club in 1963.






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