Tag Archives: Joanna Settle

Stew & Heidi Rodewald’s ‘Family Album’ conquers Oregon Shakespeare Festival (video)

Family_746x420If you find yourself in Oregon before the end of August, be sure to set aside a few hours to check out the world premiere of the latest musical play by Stew and Heidi Rodewald of The Negro Problem at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.

For fans, “Family Album” will seem familiar, as they’ve incorporated songs fans have heard TNP play in concert or in other, less-structured, theater pieces over the years. And charismatic guitarist Christian Gibbs, who was a linchpin in Stew and Heidi’s breakthrough show, “Passing Strange,” steps forward to take a larger role in this show.

You’ll see what I mean by the familiarity when you watch the show’s video trailer and read the review in the Los Angeles Times. After you’ve had a look, go here for more information and  to buy tickets.

The show was created with director Joanna Settle, a longtime Stew-and-Heidi collaborator who now heads the theater school at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts.

Tickets have been selling well, but as of today, there are 16 performance dates for which seats are still available. Prices range from $25 to $99. Go here now for more information and tickets. The run ends Aug. 31.


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

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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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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Stew: Thank God I’m off Broadway

Heidi Rodewald and Stew. (Copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

Stew & Heidi returning to the Public Theater

Stew, the singer-songwriter who fronts The Negro Problem and wrote the hit musical Passing Strange with musical partner Heidi Rodewald, makes much of his testy relationship with Broadway.

In fact, he makes specific reference to it in one of the newer Negro Problem tunes. He repeats, with great emphasis, “thank God I’m off Broadway.”

Thorny relationship notwithstanding, Stew and Heidi return next season to the scene of the crime, the place where Passing Strange took root and flowered: New York City’s Public Theater. Their new show, titled The Total Bent, is set for its world premiere on Feb. 14, 2012.

It’s no surprise that The Total Bent is a story about a musician. (Full description after the jump.) After all, Passing Strange was that, although it had a biographical arc that the promised new show appears to lack.  (I wonder if they’ve actually started writing yet? They tend to be very deadline-motivated.)

The Strange pair are working with director Joanna Settle, who forged a deal with them to direct a show at The Public around the time Passing Strange was ending its Broadway run.

Stew and Heidi have been involved in Settle’s creative process for a couple of years, writing music for her Shakespeare on the Sound outdoor productions for the last two years.

Granted, a show at The Public doesn’t give Stew and Heidi a guaranteed ride on the Broadway Limited, but the odds are decent. We shall see.

Click through to the jump for details about the show.

Continue reading

More video of Stew, Heidi and The Negro Problem at Joe’s Pub

It’s time for a better taste of The Negro Problem‘s fantastic show at Joe’s Pub on Jan 7 .

Here’s all the video Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? managed to shoot in the crowded room.

The first clip is just an excerpt, the last minute or so of one of my favorite Stew/TNP songs, “Peter Jennings,” performed with as much joy and excitement as I’ve ever seen.

After that is “Willow Song,” a Stew and Heidi number that many in the audience hadn’t heard before. It was written for last summer’s production of Othello for Shakespeare on the Sound, an outdoor community Shakespeare program in Connecticut. (Stew and Heidi tackle Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing for SotS Artistic Director Joanna Settle this summer.) It’s a beautiful, dreamy number that worked well in the play, but also stands alone surprisingly well.

Finally, for all you Passing Strange fans, there’s “Amsterdam.”


Chekhov under an open sky

Ivanov (Rob Campbell) dances on the water of Lake Lucille in the magical conclusion to Chekhov's Ivanov. (Photos copyright 2010, Steven P. Marsh)

Lake Lucille echoed with the sounds of stagecraft for five days last week as a company of 60 actors, musicians and various other theater professionals put together a free, outdoor production of Ivanov, by Anton Chekhov, performed from a new translation by Curt Columbus.

This production of Chekhov on Lake Lucille was particularly welcomed because it marked the return of a neighborhood tradition. The annual run was broken last summer when host-producers Melissa Kievman and Brian Mertes moved to the West Coast for personal and professional reasons. But they kept their wonderful brownstone house — which is the centerpiece of the set for each Chekhov production — and managed to return this summer with a bigger-than-ever performance and neighborhood cookout and potluck supper at intermission.

Melissa Kievman, Brian Mertes and the band.

You could call it summer camp for theater professionals. Most of the volunteer staff spent the week living in tents, eating meals alfresco in the neighborhood and working to create a context for Chekhov’s drama in the suburban landscape of the Lake Lucille neighborhood.

It drew hundreds of guests to enjoy the creative staging under clear skies with moderate summer temperatures.

Dozens of neighbors and local businesses provided support for an undertaking that costs thousands of dollars. This year, the West Branch Conservation Association, Rockland’s Land Trust, helped produce the play with a grant obtained by the office of Assemblyman Kenneth P. Zebrowski and the late state Sen. Thomas P. Morahan. The Tisch East Alumni Council help with a microgrant for costuming.

The production uses the natural features. Here Ivanov makes an entrance from the lake itself.

Ivanov emerges, dripping wet.

Ivanov walks through the audience toward the stage.

As is often the case in Chekhov, the characters complain of boredom.

But Jesse J. Perez, who played Kosikh, choreographed some great routines to keep things interesting:

Check out more photos after the jump.

Continue reading

Celebrate the 4th of July with Stew and Dan Zanes

Dan Zanes.

Stew, of The Negro Problem and Passing Strange, has a lot on his plate these days, what with a new Shakespeare score being performed in Connecticut right now, a couple of musicals in the pipeline and some concert appearances. All of that is in the news section on the left side of Stew’s homepage.

Heidi Rodewald and Stew. (Copyright 2009, Steven P. Marsh)

For all the Stew completists who read Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?, tomorrow is the most important upcoming date. Stew is one of the “special guests” at the FREE Dan Zanes Jam & Jubilee, The Battery 4th of July Concert and Family Festival, presented by River To River in Battery Park.

Gates open at 1 p.m., with festivities kicking off an hour later. You can spend the day in Battery Park, dancing to the rhythms of La Cumbiamba eNeYe and singing along to Dan’s brand of Broadway classics! In addition to Stew, guests include spoken word poet Caridad De La Luz (La Bruja) and Joan Osborn.

You can even participate in the fun, as musicians of all ages are invited to perform 76 Trombones in a spectacular 4th of July Parade! You can download the sheet music and get detailed information on the festival website.

It should be a blast!

Victor Williams is Othello in the Shakespeare on the Sound production, with songs and music by Stew and Heidi Rodewald.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t been to Connecticut to see Othello, directed by Joanna Settle with songs and music by Stew and his longtime partner Heidi Rodewald, there’s still time.

Shakespeare on the Sound‘s Othello is performed outdoors at 7:30 nightly (except Monday) through July 11 at Baldwin Park, 100 Arch St., in Greenwich, Conn. While Stew and Heidi don’t perform live, you’ll get the full impact of their work on the recorded backing tracks and live singing by the actors. Last year Stew scored A Midsummer Night’s Dream for SotS, and is was fantastic.

Seating is on the ground around the stage, so be sure to bring blankets or low chairs (nothing that would block the view of people seated behind you) for comfort. Or if you want to go first class, you can fork over a $50 donation for a reserved seat in on of SotS’s chairs.

And why not arrive early and turn it into dinner theater! It’s a great spot for a picnic before the show. There is a concession stand selling decent food and beverages, including wine and beer.

Admission is by donation. You could walk through the gate without paying a dime, but that just wouldn’t be right. Show your support for Stew and Heidi by dropping a donation at the gate. $20 per person is suggested, but more or less is just fine.

nically free, but donations are expected at the gae.

The park is right on the Long Island Sound and within walking distance of the Metro-North station. It’s a beautiful setting, easily accessible from NYC. Click here for transit info.

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.