Tag Archives: Spike Lee

How Stew and Heidi took on Iowa City

Stew & Heidi Rodewald at Joe's Pub in New York City. (Photos © 2012, Steven P. Marsh)

Remember Stew & Heidi Rodewald of The Negro Problem‘s theatrical show, Brooklyn Omnibus at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2010? It made a lot of sense. Both of these creative people had spent time living in the County of Kings and knew it pretty well. And the songs reflected their experiences there.

Jacob Yarrow (Photo by Tom Jorgensen)

It was a bit of a surprise when Stew, in the middle of a Jan. 23 CD-release show at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan, asked the audience: “Remember Brooklyn Omnibus? We’re doing an Iowa City Omnibus.”

The Englert Theater, one of the University of Iowa's performing arts venues in Iowa City. (Photo courtesy Jacob Yarrow, Unversity of Iowa)

Thanks to the magic of Twitter, we quickly found out who was behind this Iowa City venture, and took some time to get the lowdown for you.

It turns out that Jacob Yarrow, programming director of the University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City, saw the Spike Lee film version of Stew and Heidi’s Broadway show, Passing Strange. That was enough to give him a real hankering to bring some of Stew and Heidi’s music in the Midwest, tailored to the flood-ravaged city. So he got in touch and commissioned the duo to do an Omnibus for them.

It takes the stage on Thursday, Feb. 2. As of last week, Yarrow hadn’t heard a note of Stew and Heidi’s work, but was looking forward to hearing it. As he explains after the jump, the Iowa City commission pretty much gave the duo free rein.

My guess is that Iowa City and the University of Iowa will never be quite the same again after Stew and Heidi’s visit.

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In the Heights headed to the silver screen

Lin-Manuel Miranda (center, wearing cap), who created and composed In the Heights, is set to reprise his starring role as Usnavi in the big-screen version.

The New York-themed hit Broadway musical In the Heights will follow in the cinematic footsteps of its contemporary, Passing Strange, with a film adaptation.

The Hollywood Reporter says the movie will be directed by Kenny Ortega, the director of the High School Musical movies and Michael Jackson’s This Is It. No dates have been announced.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, who created and composed the show about three days in the lives of neighbors in NYC’s Washington Heights section, is starring and producing the movie. Quiara Alegria Hudes, who wrote the book for the musical, is writing the script. Lin-Manuel originated the starring role of Usnavi in the off-Broadway production, and opened in the show when it transferred to Broadway.

In keeping with a trend on Broadway, a movie star — Corbin Bleu of High School Musical — is set to take over the show’s starring role starting Jan. 25.

In the Heights was nominated for 13 Tony awards in 2008, and won for best new musical. Passing Strange got seven 2008 Tony nods, and won best book of a musical.

This is just the latest parallel between theatrical classmates Heights and PS, both of which were staged off-Broadway to great acclaim in 2007 and transferred to Broadway in 2008. NYC-themed Heights won the East Coast-West Coast battle against PS, which tells the story of a black man growing up in Los Angeles. Heights, which had its first Broadway performance a week after Passing Strange transferred, remains open, while PS closed on July 20, 2008, after 186 performances during a six-month run.

Director Spike Lee, a Strange Freak (a term used to describe the most devoted Passing Strange fans), filmed the final performances of PS. His film — a relatively low-buget record of the stage show with few grand cinematic tricks — was released earlier this year. The Heights movie is being billed as an “adaptation,” which suggests a slicker, big-budget project complete with location shots. Heights struck me from Day One as an updated West Side Story, and this approach to making the film seems likely to underscore the comparison.

Finally! Passing Strange the movie gets Bay Area screenings

Passing Strange movie banner

It’s about time!

Spike Lee‘s fantastic cinematic version of the rock musical Passing Strange is hitting the big screens of two Landmark movie theaters in the San Francisco Bay Area this Friday. Since the musical was developed in part at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, it’s only fitting that the movie (which is available everywhere on cable TV video-on-demand services) gets a theatrical run there.

The one-week run starts Friday, Oct. 2, at the Embarcadero in San Francisco and the Shattuck in Berkeley. If you’re in the area, please do yourself a favor and check it out. You won’t be disappointed. It’s been getting rave reviews but is dependent on word of mouth to attract an audience. Please do your part!

Here’s Passing Strange creator Stew‘s thoughts:



both for one week only.

Rebecca Jones, who is in American Idiot currently @ BerkRep,
will be the Queen of Berkeley that week, as she’ll be starring
down the street from herself.

I could give the big speech right now about why you have to tell
all your friends to see it and see it soon since its only there for one
week, but its 3:14am here in Berlin and I need to sleep.

basically, there ain’t no advert money going into this thing and the killer
in the Chronicle already happened AND our kick-ass trailer CANNOT be shown
in these 2 theaters cuz they don’t do digital trailers. I guess IFC never
we’d need a non-digital trailer. What-ev.

This is known in the bizz as a COLD OPENING.
Sounds like a date I once had in Helsinki…

The only cure for a cold opening is word of mouth
or what people today call email blasts. We’re going
to need all the help we can get. Frankly, IFC should have
opened this thing in the Bay while the press love was flowing.
But don’t get me started.

See it on the big screen while you can, Bay Area peeps.
See it before we digitally edit in a french shower scene.
See it right after American Idiot.


Passing Strange gets another week on screen at IFC

poster_passingstrangeGood news: If you haven’t seen Spike Lee‘s movie version of the fantastic rock musical Passing Strange on the big screen yet — or if you want to see it again  — you have another week to do just that. The run at the IFC Center in the Village has been extended another week.

Stew, who wrote the show with partner-in-art Heidi Rodewald, urged fans during early screenings to encourage their friends to see the movie, hinting that the announced two-week run could easily be extended if response was good. It looks like he was right. There were long lines of fans waiting to get into many of the prime shows, and now IFC has given it another week, through Sept. 8.

This movie is awesome. And while you can always catch it via on-demand cable or wait until it airs on PBS next year, there’s nothing like seeing it in a theater, surrounded by other people. The group experience adds to the impact of the movie. Don’t miss it!

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.

Passing Strange heading to TV

passings2Great news: Variety reports one of the best pieces of news to come out of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival: Spike Lee‘s film of Passing Strange, the Tony Award-winning Broadway rock musical, has been picked up by PBS. (Read more here and here.)

This fantastic news, plus the prospect of a limited theatrical run, will give Strange Freaks plenty of opportunity to recuit more people to their ranks.

It’s an awesome testament to the talents of the show’s creators, Stew and Heidi Rodewald, the amazing cast, and to Spike and his 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks team. Congratulations!

Up for a Passing Strange road trip?

So glad he's not on Broadway: Stew and his adoring fans after the final Broadway performance of <i>Passing Strange</i> on July 20, 2008. (Photo by SPM, all rights reserved.)

He’s so glad he’s not on Broadway: Stew and his adoring fans after the final Broadway performance of Passing Strange on July 20, 2008. (Photo by SPM, all rights reserved.)

Just a month after hitting the Tribeca Film Festival, Spike Lee‘s film of Passing Strange will be screened at the Seattle International Film Festival on Saturday, May 23.

Spike Lee at the final Broadway performance of Passing Strange on July 20, 2008. (Photo by SPM, all rights reserved.)

Spike Lee at the final Broadway performance of Passing Strange. (Photo by SPM, all rights reserved.)

They’re doing an interview and Q&A session, oddly, before the screening, which no doubt will help avoid the really thorny audience queries, like what co-creator and narrator Stew really meant by “What’s inside is just a lie.”

Spike is also slated to get the SIFF’s 2009 Golden Space Needle Award for Outstanding Achievement in Directing.

Think that means they really, really wanted him to show up?