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PASSING STRANGE - Rave Reviews! DJ ing with Dengue Fever and more

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  • Bill Bragin
    What an exhilarating and surreal week it s been - I went out to the TED conference where I helped bring some musical faves Nellie McKay
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 3, 2008

      What an exhilarating and surreal week it's been - I went out to the TED conference where I helped bring some musical faves Nellie McKay, Sxip Shirey, Vusi Mahlasela and Kaki King (and loved the house band Thomas Dolby put together with old friends Rufus Cappadocia, Rachelle Garniez and Mark Stewart – the Polygraph Lounge one, not the Stew one - , came back for the Broadway opening of Passing Strange, went back to TED (read about highlights on the TEDblog or from liveblogger Ethan Zuckerman, and finally I'm home reveling in what may have been the most amazing media week I've personally experienced.  I like leap years.


      Before I look back, just a quick forward looking note:  I have a rare pair of dj gigs back to back this week, opening for one of my favorite bands of recent years, the Cambodian psych/surf/indie-rock-with-a-touch-of -Ethiopian-soul band (yeah, I now - they are a dime a dozen) Dengue Fever.  We'll be at a sold out show Mercury Lounge on Tuesday night (I go on at 8, Cordero at 9, Dengue Fever at 10) and then close to home in Brooklyn at Southpaw on Wednesday night with new jDub artists Deleon playing in the middle slot - (I think tix are still available for this one): Lisa just asked me what kind of music I'm going to play, and I'm curious to know myself.  There's not much that doesn't fit in - now we'll see if I bust out that sleeve of syrupy Vietnamese pop I bought on a police auction site but never quite listened to....along with some Ethiopiques jams, recent acquisitions from Recife in the Northeast of Brasil (thanks to Paulo Andre), some electrocumbe from Colombia, and more. Hope to see some of you out there.


      My good friend Jimmy Saal compiled a small sample of the almost universal rave reviews of Passing Strange, which I’ve augmented a bit - scroll below to click through link after link of stellar reviews.  I am so proud of everyone involved in the show - Stew, Heidi Rodewald and Annie Dorsen for creating it, the incredible cast, band and design team, everyone at the Public Theater and Berkeley Rep for believing in it, and the commercial producers for seeing that this seemingly outsider Black rock musical could help bring new life into the world of Broadway, dealing with issues of substance and heart, and with kick-ass songs in a form that combines concert and play in really exciting new ways.


      Opening night was a trip - the who's who in attendance ranged from Toni Morrison, Spike Lee and Debbie Harry to Stiller and Meara and Marian Seldes, who read the entire rave NY review of the show aloud in the middle of the party, old school style. It was a staggering experience. Big thanks to Jill Sternheimer of Hi-Fi Bags for creating special Passing Strange rolling papers for my opening night gifts to the company.


      I was looking snazzy wearing a brand new outfit (Four words, Mom: Brown.  Poly. Ester. No.) bought especially for the occasion, built around a belt I got from my old friend Deborah Zimmerman Ribner, a fellow Festival Productions alum who now creates great one-of-a-kind belts with vintage buckles for her new company Through the Loops (www.throughtheloops.com- still in development) (yes, some of the cast members and the recent Oscars inspired me to get my wardrobe sponsored ;) And Debbie is offering discounts to friends of mine for both men's and women's belts, so hit me up if you want a connection (If this show ends up getting some other award nominations, consider the word out - I'm happy to entertain additional fashion endorsements....)


      If you have been reading about Passing Strange, but want to have some taste of what the show looks and sounds like, check out these video profiles:


      Thanks to everyone who wrote about the article about my job change in the NY Times.  (clearly, a slow news day…)  If you missed it, I'm shameless enough to include it here


      I'm also very excited that my former colleague Shanta Thake has officially been named director of Joe's Pub - no more "acting" for her.  She was a fantastic collaborator for so many years, and I'm excited to see how it grows and evolves under her leadership, as Joe's Pub moves towards celebrating its 10th anniversary.


      Now here are some reviews to keep you busy....



      NEW YORK TIMES  It's A Hard Rock Life

      "...wonderful, and a welcome anomaly on Broadway, which can use all the vigorous new artistic blood it can get."


      VARIETY  Passing Strange review

      "From "Hair" to "Rent" to "Spring Awakening," composers have sought to reinvigorate musical theater by harnessing the energy and raw expressiveness of rock. But "Passing Strange," the defiantly unclassifiable musical by Los Angeles singer-songwriter Stew, is something else altogether -- a magical mystery tour that fuses aspects of concert, concept album, cabaret and revivalist meeting. "


      USA TODAY (Stew feature) Singer/Songwriter Stew Takes Strange Road To Broadway


      USA TODAY  Unique 'Passing Strange' is Broadway at its best

      "Strange's playful, passionate presentation will inspire comparisons to rock musicals such as Hair and Godspell.

      In the end, though, Strange is truly unlike anything you've seen on Broadway. Let's hope that it helps inspire more musical-theater artists — and producers — to dare to be different."

      HOLLYWOOD REPORTER (Reuters)  "Passing Strange" brings rock energy to Broadway


      NPR (All Things Considered)   'Passing Strange' a Real Rock Musical


      NEW YORK MAGAZINE  A Less Cheesy Musical: 'Passing Strange' smashes Broadway cliches with an electric guitar


      THE WALL STREET JOURNAL  'Passing Strange': Rocking The Great White Way


      THE WALL STREET JOURNAL  'You Kinda Act Too White"

      "...the freshest musical in town..."


      Now, if the words ‘rock musical’ evoke dreadful associations of watered-down, vanilla pop pabulum, rest assured that the rock in Passing Strange is the real deal; funky, electric, thumping, progressive, exhilarating. ...Passing Strange is an ingeniously staged tour through the disorienting funhouse of African American identity. And what a fun, strange trip it is – one you’ll probably want to take more than once, Broadway be damned.

       NEW YORK DAILY NEWS  It's sex, drugs and a rockin' role in 'Passing Strange'


      NEW YORK POST  It's Not Strange to Warm Up To Hearty Stew


      NEWSDAY   Stew's 'Passing Strange' on Broadway

      "Let's not get too distracted figuring out how to categorize "Passing Strange," the stranger-in-a-strange-land original passing for a Broadway musical at the Belasco Theatre.

      What's important is that the thing - part indie-rock concert, part boho-art project, part coming-of-age black-identity crisis, part hipster travelogue - is all smart and all enjoyable and all very good for the theater."


      THE STAR-LEDGER  A rocking journey: young musician finds his way to adulthood in 'Passing Strange'


      THE NEW YORK SUN  Portrait of a Screwup


      NEW YORK PRESS  Rock Show At The Belasco!  The lasting greatness of 'Passing Strange'


      BLOOMBERG.COM   Genial Rocker Stew Revels in Middle-Class Angst


      INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE  In 'Passing Strange' a young artist searches to find his musical muse


      THEATERMANIA.COM   Passing Strange review


      AOL CANADA  Stew Plumbs Past for 'Passing Strange'

      Breaker seems equally keen to make some audience members uneasy, especially enthusiastic white liberals.   "I love those people. They just saw The Color Purple' and they are here to see another black play," the actor says. "It's like they're doing their part. It's like they're giving to the Salvation Army. It's black history month and they just watched Roots' and they watched Ken Burns' series on jazz. And then they see me doing a minstrel show. There is this beautiful shock in their eyes."

      NY1: Theater Reviews (video + text)

      “Passing Strange” - a unique piece of theatre that gives Broadway yet another powerful jolt of youthful adrenalin. Co-written and narrated by one-named Stew, a newcomer to the theatre scene, “Passing Strange” is a wonderful fusion of stage musical and concert. Featuring some of the year's freshest and exciting new talents, “Passing Strange” tells a compelling story of a young disaffected man's journey toward enlightenment. If that sounds cliched, it's not. Stew's voice is honest and completely original - a black man who understands the nuances of race relations in ways that people rarely discuss, let alone express as mainstream entertainment. The entire company of actors is sensational, putting flesh and blood on potentially stock characters. Stew and co-composer Heidi Rodewald have written a dynamite score, gifting the performers with some very rich material to work with.

      And they fly with it – the performers’ raw energy is nothing less than infectious. David Korin’s giant neon stage wall is a bright enhancement. Annie Dorsen's perfectly-calibrated direction brings impressive order to the seeming chaos.  “Passing Strange” features the kind of wisdom that can only come from real-life experience. This mostly autobiographical story forces a re-examination of our own worldly priorities, and it supplies an infusion of new blood on the Broadway scene.  It's not for everyone, but like it or not, this truly unconventional work impressively attempts to rewrite the book and song on B'way musicals.

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