Tag Archives: Passing Strange

Last Minute Music: Eisa Davis performs new songs at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater tonight (Video)

You may remember Eisa Davis from “Passing Strange,” where I first encountered her.

But if it strains your brain to reach back that far, and you watch TV, you’ll recognize her from her roles in “House of Cards” and “Blindspot” or her many guest appearances on other popular shows, including “Gotham,” “The Blacklist,” “The Wire,” “The Good Wife,” and many others. 

She’s not just an actor. She’s also a writer, composer, and singer.

She wrote a musical play called “Angela’s Mixtape,” an exploration of family dynamics titled in honor of her aunt, Angela Davis.

Yes, THAT Angela Davis.

Eisa Davis

Eisa Davis

She’s appearingat 8 p.m. Tuesday,  Aug. 2, in the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater series “New Songs Now,” sharing the bill with Zoe Sarnak, in a program of new songs, conversation anda bit of drinking.

She’s a good, charming singer and performer with magnetic stage presence. It should be a great way to spend a couple of hours on a Tuesday evening. 

This is the third in a series of five shows in the Manhattan theater’s unplugged summer concert series. Each features two songwriters who share songs in progress and conversationfollowed by an audience talkback.
Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 on day of show, and include one drink. Go HERE to buy online or call 866-812-4111 or 212-627-2556.

Rattlestick is located at 224 Waverly Place.  


In performance now: Colman Domingo’s warmhearted ‘Dot’


Colman Domingo, the theatrical triple threat (actor on stage, film, and TV, playwright, and director) and someone from whom I’ve always been able to count on getting a hug since the day we met in 2007 during the Public Theater run of “Passing Strange,”is at it again.

His latest play, “Dot,” had its first performance Thursday night at Manhattan’s Vineyard Theatre  a place that’s shown him a lot of love over the years.

The “Fear the Walking Dead” star’s heartwarming autobiographical “A Boy and His Soul” had a good run there in 2009, and he appeared there in the off-Broadway premiere of “The Scottsboro Boys” the following year before he went to Broadway with the show. (His second play, “Wild With Happy,” was presented at the Public Theater.) Continue reading

Stew and Heidi celebrate Baldwin in the shadow of Bowie


One of the numerous humorous videos projected during “Notes of a Native Song” at Joe’s Pub labels a silent clip of James Baldwin smoking a cigarette with: “Don’t blame any of this on me. These are Stew’s words not mine.”

How does any rock musician play a show — especially in New York City — on the day the world learned that David Bowie died?

With heart and soul.

Heidi Rodewald and Stew at Joe's Pub on Jan. 11, 2016. (Photo © 2016, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Heidi Rodewald and Stew at Joe’s Pub on Jan. 11, 2016. (Photo © 2016, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Stew and Heidi Rodewald played their “Notes of a Native Song” show at for a mixed crowd of friends, fans, and arts presenters (it was an APAP showcase gig) Joe’s Pub on Monday night as if it was the most important show they’d ever done.

It wasn’t until after taking the final bow that the pair returned to the cramped stage to sing a reverent rendition of Bowie’s “Be My Wife.” The song — never explained by Bowie but often perceived as Bowie’s  musical effort to save his marriage to Angela Bowie — was a beautiful and touching tribute to the chameleonic icon by a pair of artists who once were a couple themselves.

Stew (© 2016, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Stew (© 2016, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

It has been just seven months since they premiered their James Baldwin-centric show at Harlem Stage as part of the 90th anniversary of the late literary icon’s birth.

It’s the same show I saw in Harlem, but it felt very different. I can’t — and wouldn’t even if I had kept detailed notes — do a song-by-song comparison of the two productions. But the show I saw Monday night felt like it had evolved and grown. Some of the songs seemed tweaked and rewritten.

Was there a new song or two in the mix?  Maybe. But it could simply be my memory playing tricks on me. If it matters, I’m sure Stew will explain.

I’m fairly sure that my sense that the show felt much tighter and even more energized than it was in Harlem is not based on a faulty memory. Freed from the confines of Theater-with-a-capital-T in Harlem, Stew, Heidi (wearing clericals), and their seasoned crew of Mike McGinnis (in a tux and a rather large yarmulke) on winds, Marty Beller (in a bright orange plaid shirt) on drums, and Art Terry (in a choir robe open to his breastbone) on keyboards really rocked.

"The Good Swimmer," with music by Heidi Rodewald, libretto/lyrics by Donna Di Novelli, music co-direction by Marc Doten and Rodewald, direction by Kevin Newbury, is part of the 2016 Prototype festival through Jan. 17.

“The Good Swimmer,” with music by Heidi Rodewald, libretto/lyrics by Donna Di Novelli, music co-direction by Marc Doten and Rodewald, direction by Kevin Newbury, is part of the 2016 Prototype festival through Jan. 17.

Stew made a point to mention from time to time that they were doing a New York version of the show — pointing out the parts that weren’t really in the show that they were peddling to the APAP crowd. But with a show like this — warm, personal, and loosely structured — there’s room for variations to accommodate location and other temporal factors. I expect it’ll be slightly different everywhere it’s performed.

Who knows when this show will reappear in New York?

But if you have a craving for more of this team’s creative output, check out Heidi’s show “The Good Swimmer,” which runs through Jan. 17 as part of the Prototype Festival at HERE arts center, 145 Sixth Avenue. Order tickets online by tapping or clicking here.









Stew plays ‘Singing MC’ for Church of Betty, Eszter Balint, Carol Lipnik at The Living Room

Stew and Eszter Balint are on the bill at The Living Room in Brooklyn on Friday, Dec. 11, 2015.

Stew and Eszter Balint are on the bill at The Living Room in Brooklyn on Friday, Dec. 11, 2015. (Photos by Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

It’ll be a weird and wonderful night on Friday, Dec. 11 at The Living Room in Brooklyn.


(Chris Rael/Facebook)

Stew, the main main in the band The Negro Problem and the Tony Award-winning creator of “Passing Strange,” will be playing a role of “Singing MC” at The Living Room.

It’ll be Stew’s second appearance in recent months at the newish Brooklyn home of the longtime Lower East Side music venue.

He’ll be hosting an evening of music featuring a spending lineup of quirky performers, including a favorite of mine: quirky singer/songwriter/actress Eszter Balint. If you don’t know her music — no shame in that because her albums have been few and far between — be sure to check out her newest collection, Airless Midnight, released earlier this year. It’s in my regular listening rotation.

Chris Rael’s Church of Betty is headlining the bill, which also features an appearance by singer Carol Lipnik.

The Living Room is at 134 Metropolitan Ave. in Brooklyn. The show’s posted start time is 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 and available by clicking here.

Read Stew’s Facebook announcement of the below:


(Stew & The Negro Problem/Facebook)

hey people!
Come see moi in the guise of “The Singing MC” on Friday Dec. 11th at The Living Room where I’ll be hosting,…

Posted by Stew & The Negro Problem on Saturday, November 7, 2015

Stew’s stoked about James Baldwin

Stew in the Harlem Stage theater, where his "Notes of a Native Song" premieres in June. (© 2015, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Stew in the Harlem Stage theater on March 11. His new show “Notes of a Native Song” premieres there in June. (© 2015, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

‘Passing Strange’ creator to challenge and honor author in Harlem Stage commission

Stew rarely takes the predictable route — at least in public.

So when the pop-song writer and founder of The Negro Problem took the floor at Harlem Stage on Wednesday night for “Behind the Curtain: Stew,” a talk about his upcoming show in the beautiful Gatehouse theater, I had few expectations.

Would he talk? Would he offer a cynical take on “Notes of a Native Song,” the piece he’s creating as part of the Year of James Baldwin, which celebrates the 90th anniversary of his birth? Would he read from the show in progress? Would he perform some of the songs?

He did a little of most of those thing — with remarkable engagement and not a touch of cynicism.

The Gatehouse, a Romanesque Revival former water pumping station that's home to Harlem Stage. (© 2015, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

The Gatehouse, a Romanesque Revival former water pumping station that’s home to Harlem Stage. (© 2015, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Maybe the venue — in Harlem, in front of a crowd that seemed earnest and engaged, exhibiting little of the hipster affect often on display at the downtown and Brooklyn venues where Stew more often appears — had something to do with it.

But it was more than that.

“When artists talk, they, for the most part, lie,” Stew said at the outset of the evening.

I’m in no position to judge his truthfulness, but his presentation came across as warm, personable, and, honest, without a trace of pose or ennui. Stew appeared deeply engaged with his subject — his reaction to Baldwin, and Baldwin’s  relationship with mentor and impediment Richard Wright.

If the artist was lying, it was a beautiful lie.

Stew held forth with only his guitar to accompany him as he opened the program with his laugh-inducing song “Black Men Ski.” While it wasn’t clear that he intends to include that song in the June show, it set the tone for the fun to follow.

He performed four other songs and fragments that apparently are part of the show, at least as it stands at this point in its development. Based on lyrical fragments, I’ll dub the three fleshed-out numbers “Brave, Suffering, Beautiful,” “Me, and You, and Jimmy,” and “Don’t Pray for the Boy Preacher” (with music, he said, by his longtime collaborator Heidi Rodewald). The fourth, of which he sang just a fragment — with some help from the audience with a spaghetti Western backing vocalization — cast Baldwin and Wright as gunslingers at High Noon in “Paris town.”

Given Stew’s position as a Tony-winning writer of rock musicals and other musical plays, such as “Passing Strange,”  you might expect “Notes of a Native Song” will be another of those, given that it will have its premiere in a respected theater.

But, based on Stew’s description, that’s not the case. He said it’ll feature “some musicians” performing the songs with scripted rants between them, because he’s comfortable with the structure of a concert.

And don’t expect the “Ken Burns, PBS James Baldwin” in this show, either. Stew promises the unexpurgated Baldwin — a detail he underscored with his unrestrained language throughout the evening — including a declaration of love for speaking all of the names that used to label African Americans over the years.

Stew seems as engaged and exited by this project as anything I’ve seen him do in years. So by that measure, it’s a safe bet that “Notes of a Native Song” will be a gem.

Get your tickets now, because it’s a short run in a small theater (just 200 seats) and it will sell out quickly.

“Notes of a Native Song” will receive six performances (fours shows at 7:30 p.m., plus two 2 p.m. matinees) from Jun 3-7, at Harlem Stage, 150 Convent Avenue, Manhattan. Tickets for the show, featuring cabaret-style seating, are $55 and available by tapping or clicking here. Call 212-281-9240 or tap or click here for more information Harlem Stage and its offerings.

Stew pulls back the (figurative) curtain on James Baldwin

Stew at Joe's Pub (© 2012 Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Stew at Joe’s Pub (© 2012 Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Stew says he’s not using a curtain, so the title of  “Behind the Curtain: Stew” at Harlem Stage on Wednesday, March 11, may be a bit of a misnomer.

But I won’t quibble, since the program will give the audience a peek at the influences and creative process of the pop-song master who founded The Negro Problem and won a Tony for the musical “Passing Strange”

The program is a prelude to Harlem Stage’s world premiere presentation of Stew’s “Notes of a Native Song,” described as ” a collage of songs, text and video inspired by [James] Baldwin’s brave and visionary proclivity for airing uncomfortable truths as celebratory events of poetry and beauty.”

Stew, a Los Angeles native, has long been inspired by Baldwin, and name checks him prominently in “Passing Strange” as “Little Jimmy Baldwin.”

You might expect that Stew is going to offer a preview of the piece. But anything can happen,.

Here’s a Facebook post in which Stew describes Wednesday’s gig:

It’ll be more than a discussion – I’m going to preview some tunes from the Baldwin show – talk about JB’s influence on me and Passing Strange and start making people mad with my views on so-called “socially-engaged art.” It will be fun and then we’ll eat.

It will without a doubt be entertaining and insightful. But best to arrive without too many preconceptions. Anything could happen.

Harlem Stage commissioned “Notes” as part of The Year of James Baldwin celebration that began last Aug.2, the 90th anniversary of Baldwin’s birth.

“Behind the Curtain: Stew” is at 7:30 p.m. at Harlem Stage, 150 Convent Ave. in Manhattan. Tickets are $10 and available by tapping or clicking here. Call 212-281-9240 for more information.

Attending the preview event gets you a 20 percent discount on the show, which runs June 3-7. Just use code DDOHS to get the reduced price on as many as four tickets.

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.