Last night, I finally managed to catch Passing Strange, a new musical by singer-songwriter Stew, musical collaborator Heidi Rodewald and director Annie Dorsen, at the Public Theater. The show chronicles the coming-of-age of a young, middle-class African-American man from Los Angeles, as he pursues his muse and grapples with issues of racial identity, belonging and commitment.
I'll come back to talk about this show at length soon. But since the run closes this Sunday (July 1), it seems imperative to at least say this much: Passing Strange is tuneful, adventurous, provocative and touching, and a genuinely absorbing evening of theater. The book is wordy, funny and genuine; the music touches on rock, soul, gospel, cabaret, punk and more conventional modes of Rent- and Hedwig-era musical theater. The staging is minimal but inventive, and the cast is fabulous.
Stew, whose cabaret-rock work I've not always appreciated in the past, is nearly always at center stage, providing a solid, self-deprecating center of gravity around which events and characters swirl, and into which the audience is drawn for at least a few hours, as well.
Passing Strange isn't flawless, but it's still one of the most engaging and thought-provoking performance pieces I've seen in quite some time. There are seven remaining performances: one show tonight, tomorrow and Saturday, and two on Friday and Sunday. More details here.