Stew has made a career out of it - first with The Negro Problem,
then later as solo artist. He later confonted all expectations when
his first stab at a musical, 'Passing Strange' had a strong run first
at The Public Theater, then later on Broadway. Spike Lee was so
impressed that he turned it his latest film.
To coincide with its theatrical release, Stew and his
collaborator Heidi Rodewald led a 12-piece band through a new work
called 'The Broadway Problem' on a hot, muggy night at Lincoln Center
Out Of Doors.
If you were expecting faithful, dedicated interpretations of Broadway classics, think again.
It was all about not-so subtle tributes and all-out mashups.
'Nobody' was a nice nod to Bert Williams, the first Black to have a
lead on Broadway and one of the most popular comedians of the early
1900's. Fats Waller's 'This Joint Is Jumpin' was recast as Jamaican
dance hall (thanks to Bill Bragin for pointing out the double meaning
behind this recasting!). The Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn
composition, 'It Don't Mean A Thing' was juxtaposed quite beautifully
with the bassline from 'Too High' by Stevie Wonder. The hook of
'Promises, Promises' met with the hook of Sondheim-Bernstein's
'America'. 'Ol Man River' was done as Fishbone-ska clashing with the
chrous of Ike & Tina's version! The best example of this was 'Big
Black Men' (from The Full Monty) meeting 'Black Boys' (from 'Hair') -
the latter being done as a dramatic (yet hilarious) spoken word piece
by De'Adre Aziza (who's also in 'Passing Strange'. The night ended
with a show-stopper disco blowout of 'Everything's Coming Up Roses'!
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that mind blowing set that
Tanya Tagaq had to open up the program. She's an Inuit throat singer
from Northern Canada and she gave a performance that was sensual,
experimental, spiritual yet haunting.
I'm not sure if the Lincoln Center crowd was fully prepared for
what they got, but I loved it. The same way that 'Passing Strange' put
a new spin on the musical, 'The Broadway Problem' succeeds in bringing
an irreverent twist to some of Broadway's most beloved tunes.
'Passing Strange' opens at The IFC Theater on August 21st. It'll also be on IFC On Demand starting on August 26th. More information here.
For those of you in the rest of the country, you'll finally get to see what I've been talking about for the last year or so by checking it out on cable starting August 26. You'll be able to see Stew, Heidi and The Kid take his journey towards the real via the following on-demand channels:
BRIGHT HOUSE: Movies on Demand > IFC In Theaters
CABLEVISION: Movies On Demand > Independent Films > Sundance Selects
COMCAST: Channel 1>Movies & Events > Same Day as Theaters > Sundance Selects
COX: Channel 1 > Movies On Demand > Sundance Selects
Like Jonathan Demme's Stop Making Sense it captures with visceral power the sweaty intensity and raw intimacy of a live performance before a packed, euphoric crowd...In Passing Strange irony, post-modern meta-commentary, pop-culture geekery and parody comfortably co-exist with raw emotion and aching sadness. . .at its best Passing Strange isn’t just good; it’s goddamned transcendent, a near-religious experience.
A very cool discussion is taking place next Tuesday, August 18. Passing Strange collaborators Stew and Heidi Rodewald will be participating in this program, which explores the nature of collaboration in the arts. They'll be joined by Bill T. Jones and the Bill T. Jones/Arne Zane Dance Company, along with two of Bill's collaborators. The program explores "the pleasures and pitfalls of artistic partnerships."
On Tuesday, August 11, our friends over at Imagenation are presenting an advanced screening of Spike Lee's film of the black rock musical Passing Strange. You'll recall that the musical won a Tony Award last year. The film went to Sundance this year, where it was acquired by PBS and, I understand, will have its broadcast premiere during the 2010 season of Great Performances. In the meantime, the film is getting a theatrical run here in NYC at the IFC Film Center starting on August 21.
Cool how Imagenation is also bundling the screening with some live music, and the powerful Tamar-kali no less!
Here's Spike and the cast talking about Passing Strange at Sundance:
And here's Stew:
Tuesday, August 11 @ 7:00pm The National Black Theater 2031 5th Ave (Btwn. 124th & 125th Streets) NYC 10035
Readers in the birthplace of Jimi still have time to get tix for tonight's event, where the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) will honor filmmaker Spike Lee. Also included is a special screening of the film adaptation of the Broadway musical Passing Strange. From the festival site:
SIFF will present the Golden Space Needle Award for Outstanding
Achievement in Directing to Spike Lee in recognition of his
extraordinary filmmaking career. This special tribute ceremony will
include a montage of clips highlighting his diverse work as a director
and pioneer of contemporary cinema. Prior to the screening of Passing Strange, Spike Lee will take the stage for an in-depth interview and Q&A session with the audience.
As you might expect, I have some mixed emotions about the closing of this ground-breaking musical six days from now on Sunday, July 20. The news was reported last Thursday.
So that means if you haven't seen it, time is of the essence. Discount tickets are available through the remainder of the run. Head over to BroadwayOffers.com and use code PSGNL29. This is one of those events that you should experience, 'cause who know when or if it'll ever come around again. If you haven't seen it, what proof do you still need? As you know from this space and others, the musical has won a bunch of prestigious awards including a Tony, Obies, Drama Desk, Audelco and many others. Everyone who I've admonished for not seeing it has come back blown away by it, and I hope plenty of people join that group this week. The other incentive--and I'm not sure is seats are still available--is that Spike Lee is confirmed to film the performance on July 19, so if you're going that night,
What excited me so much about this play was that it is, quite frankly, a great example of the evolving Black imagination. As I've talked about here, it's emblematic of the larger cultural shift taking place in this country. It fit the criteria critic and BRC co-founder laid out in the bio for The Family Stand and and what "Great Black Music performances used to do on the regular--make you think hard about the world and your own inner life while you had a stomp down, sweaty, good time in the process."
That is the legacy of "Passing Strange".
So, while I'm sad to see it go, I know that the work of Stew and Heidi's work has become a reference point. More importantly, it's become, I think, a standard of excellence, one that we should strive to not only achieve, but to surpass someday. And we can do it, if we're men and women enough to step up and take the torch that's now being passed.
Yep, according to Entertainment Weekly, Spike is set to film my favorite Tony Award-winning Broadway musical. That's a coup if I ever saw one. But, more importantly, my hat's off to Stew, Heidi and the whole cast and crew. This just means that even more people will get to experience "Passing Strange".
If you still haven't see it, I've been informed that there are new discount codes that you can use. Check it:
Stew for takes home the Tony Award for "Best Book of a Musical". While I'd hoped it would win "Best Musical," the fact that it was nominated in seven categories was an honor and an achievement. Hopefully, the pre-Tony buzz and the exposure from performing on national TV will encourage many more people to see it.
Congrats to Stew, Heidi and the cast, crew, producers, and all who supported the musical since day one!