Tag Archives: Paul Oakley Stovall

In the Clear

Paul Oakley Stovall and Joshua Kobak share a moment in Clear.

It’s been a very busy time, with so many great shows that I’ve been swamped. But one of the best things I’ve seen this season is Paul Oakley Stovall‘s autobio-musical Clear, which was performed in a developmental reading at Joe’s Pub in NYC on Monday, Nov. 30. Even in its unfinished form, Clear kept the audience enthralled with a beautifully told tale of the struggle of life.

Paul Oakley Stovall onstage at Joe's Pub.

Paul, a well-established singer, actor and playwright who has a day job working for the Obama administration, has written a show that anyone familiar with Passing Strange will find quite familiar. It’s the story of a black misfit’s journey through life. Though in this case, the central character also is gay.

The show starts with a flashback to 1991, when Paul’s character was recovering he was shot in a case of mistaken identity in Minneapolis and is left temporarily crippled. It jumps around in time, tracing Paul’s journey of personal development — he admits he told his parents he as gay by writing them a letter — at home in Chicago, and in Stockholm, where he found he love of his life.

Clear comes across as unadulterated autobiography. That was underscored by the fact that at least one of Paul’s lovers portrayed in the show was actually in the audience for the show. Paul introduced him to fans backstage after the show.

The cast of Clear at Joe's Pub.

The links to Passing Strange (Paul met the creators of that show during auditions and has remained a part of the PS family) are more than coincidental. Stew, who wrote PS with Heidi Rodewald, composed some of the music for Paul’s show. The music was quite polished and on target. While there were touches of trademark Stew stylings, the overall effect, luckily, stayed well away from rock-heave sonic world of Passing Strange. As a result, Clear skilfully avoided becoming a Passing Strange clone. (But Paul was afraid of underscoring the PS connection by  having actor Yassmin Alers make a direct reference to that show: “A wise man once said, ‘Your mother’s love might seem insane…'” The line drew knowing laughs from the Strange Freaks in the room!)

Paul is quite a talented artist. I’m sure Clear will return on a bigger stage soon. Don’t miss it when that happens.

Paul Oakley Stovall, George Farmer and Yassmin Alers.

Monday night at Joe’s Pub: Clearly a Passing Strange family gathering

You can see the intensity in Paul Oakley Stovall's eyes.

Thanksgiving is a time when families come together. But this year, the Monday night after Thanksgiving is family day for Strange Freaks — people who love Passing Strange, its creators, its cast, and all the people inextricably linked to each other through the fantastic musical and movie. Monday night is when Joe’s Pub at NYC’s Public Theater turns into Strange Freaks Central with shows involving Stew, Colman Domingo and special guests during two shows that evening.

First there’s a performance of Clear, a new musical experience by Paul Oakley Stovall. Paul is the tall, striking young NYC-based singer who linked up with the Passing Strange crew during auditions for the show.

He’s an amazingly talented singer, who’s been heard before at Joe’s Pub, most memorably  on a bill with PS creators Stew and Heidi Rodewald and PS cast members. His show-in-the works, Clear, is the latest offspring of  PS, since Stew wrote some of the music. (Paul also has a day job working for the Obama administration. For a revealing interview with Paul in The Advocate, click here.)

Clear is being billed as an “opera poem” that will take you from the South Side of Chicago to the rooftops of Stockholm, from an ER in Minneapolis to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.  Paul wrote the book and lyrics, and collaborated with  Stew, Tom Kitt and others on the music. It’s produced by Steve and Ruth Hendel.

It is directed by Krissy Vanderwarker.

The  cast features Joshua Kobak, Yassmin Alers, Chris Anderson and Brad Simmons.

Check out a track from the show on the Joe’s Pub web site.  It sounds like a winner to me. Click here to listen.

Here’s Paul’s take on the piece, from an interview by Tonya Pinkins:

Clear was inspired by a piece I was working on about Bayard Rustin. Google him folks. He’s too deep to summarize. Stew and I wrote some great music. That piece went in a different direction (and we are still working on it together) but I had all these songs about a strong Black man, who was gay, passionate, political and, among many other things, a survivor. I began to rework lyrics, pull some songs from my other songwriting ventures and collaborators and create this semi-autobiographical piece about our universal human desire to rise out of our self-created fogs and live a life that is CLEAR. It will be told in a very unique way. Sort of mix between Sandra Bernhardt, Passing Strange, and Mario Cantone’s Laugh Whore. Structured, but freewheeling. And I’ve got the most amazing people on stage with me. So, I’m very much looking forward to finding out how people respond to this “pop poem opera” as I am starting to call it.

Clear, a concert reading. 7:30 pm on Monday, Nov. 30, at Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette Street, Manhattan. Tickets, available here, are $20.

Colman Domingo is celebrating his 40th birthday with a performace at Joe's Pub on Monday night.

Then, at 9:30, right after Clear, the amazing Colman Domingo, to whom regular readers of this blog need no introduction, will flex his musical and thespian muscles in a show that celebrates his 40th birthday (which actually falls on Saturday). Colman promises lots of special guests and surprises. Proceeds will benefit Save the Children.

I’ll let Colman explain the deal to you in his own words. And if you don’t recognize the names he drops, you just haven’t been paying attention. I’m guessing that Paul and his crew are likely to stick around for this one:
Celebrate my 40th Birthday with me at Joe’s Pub on November 30th. Anika, De’Adre, Eisa, Ari, Daniel, Jon and more will perform with me. Together we will sponsor children in need this year. That would be a great gift. Buy your ticket today.
Colman Domingo’s BIG ASS 40th Birthday Party, 7:30 pm on Monday, Nov. 30, at Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette Street, Manhattan. Tickets, available here, are $20.