Before you consider going to see Bootless Artworks’ production of PASSING STRANGE, I want you to take a moment to recall HAIR and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. You need to think sex and drugs and leave the kids at home. And probably your parents, too, depending on how old you all are. My guest was ready to leave at intermission but I loved it and I’ll let you know why. Oddly enough, this production is performed in a church setting. Really?
Bootless Artworks is a traveling theatre and, as the announcer informed us, “Bootless is homeless.” Perhaps you’ll have ideas for venues for them after you see this production of PASSING STRANGE.
PASSING STRANGE went from off-Broadway in 2007 to Broadway in 2008 when it won the Tony award for Best Book of a Musical (book & lyrics by “Stew”) with seven Tony award nominations. Spike Lee turned it into a documentary film in 2009. Yes, I’ll be watching it.
As a rock musician, Stew also had an interest in theatre; thus, his desire was to create a staged musical production which in essence also was his autobiography, particularly as he was passing from his youth into adulthood, passing time. According to Stew, the phrase “passing strange”, as found in Shakespeare’s 1603 play, “Othello”, had a personal meaning. In discussions with friends, you might come up with your own interpretation(s).
The setting of PASSING STRANGE, directed by Malika Oyetimein, takes place in the 1970s in a south central Los Angeles neighborhood. Our story revolves around a young man, referred to as “Youth” (Cory Hindorff) who wants nothing more than to break away from home and his loving mother to find himself “somewhere out there”. His mother (Cherie Jazmyn) wishes he’d stay home, go to church, pray to G_d, make something of himself. When the Youth tells her that he doesn’t believe in G_d, she asks of him, “Have you told him?” The dialogue, when it can be heard, is often very thought-provoking. Finally, he agrees to go to church where he meets two males (B. K. Elam & Keith Wallace) and two females (Candace Thomas & Kori Beaman). We’re not talking angels here. Yup, believe it. It all gives new meaning to the word “strange”. Each Male and each Female plays three roles throughout the play. All in all, much humor and satire. And sadness.
Key to this entire performance is the Narrator, portrayed by Jerry Rudasill. He is relating the story of who he used to be and is the connecting link to whom he will become, passing from one stage to another. Shamika Byrd, metaphorically speaking, is, in my opinion, the thread throughout that binds everything together … as Heidi in Act One and as Coro in Act Two.
In this milieu, playing music, specifically the guitar, becomes the Youth’s passion. He thinks he’s talented so off he goes to Amsterdam to “work it”.
What does he encounter? Sex ‘n drugs. And then on to West Berlin where he meets up with loud political rowdies. (I couldn’t help but think that he was off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz.) I wasn’t too far off in my thoughts as it turns out that the obnoxious-appearing young thugs he met had much more “heart” than the Youth had, and it’s from them that he had to learn that “there’s no place like home”. And, above all, love is the most important thing. Who’d a thunk it? The second act comes crashing to a stunning end that I simply didn’t see coming. (You have to understand that I’m an in-the-moment kind of gal … I like surprises!)
Time for me to gush, and I mean GUSH! The four-piece band will blow you away. They didn’t just play music … it spoke musically. (Music Director, James W. Fuerst) This cast was totally uninhibited! Each remained in character every single second; they were in their own zones. When they walked in prior to beginning to perform, in single file, with such confidence, I knew I was in for an interesting evening. What I didn’t know was that I was about to have the privilege of seeing a group so talented, so professional, that I would end up thinking each one of them could, should, end up on Broadway. And they sing so well; their dancing was clean … fantastic! Ashley S.K. Davis’ choreography – great! It reminded me of “Ragtime” and Alvin Ailey’s “The Wedding”.
The downside of this production was the sound. The incredible music and the outstanding vocals were fighting each other. More often it was difficult to hear the lyrics. I’m betting you won’t be humming these tunes on the way home.
Until the next show …
Book & Lyrics by Stew
Music by Stew & Heidi Rodewald
Directed by Malika Oyetimein
September 29 to October 15, 2011
The Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew & Matthew
719 N. Shipley St.
Wilmington, DE 19801