by Lynn on February 4, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Opera House, on Queen just east of Broadview, Toronto, Ont.

Book and lyrics by Stew
Music by Stew and Heidi Rodewald
Created in collaboration with Annie Dorsen
Directed by Philip Akin
Musical direction by Bob Foster
Choreographed by Kimberley Rampersad
Set and lighting by Steve Lucas
Costumes by Joanna Yu
Sound by Peter Boyle
Cast: Jahlen Barnes
Divine Brown
Beau Dixon
Peter Fernandes
David Lopez
Sabryn Rock
Vanessa Sears

Passing Strange is a terrific rock musical about finding oneself, that is unlike the typical Broadway musical.

The Story. It’s a co-production between Acting Up Stage Company, a company devoted to doing provocative musicals, and Obsidian Theatre that focuses on stories of the African-Canadian, African American experience.

The title comes from a speech from Othello, spoken by Othello. And according to director Philip Akin in his program note: “…passing—of how we become what we are not. What it means, as a black man, to forever hide yourself in public and more importantly to face what that hiding has done to you.”

Passing Strange is a coming of age story but with real depth of feeling, intellect and philosophy.

A character named YOUTH is trying to come to grips with himself as a young black man in Los Angeles in 1976. He rebels against his single mom who is religious and always feels that going to church will solve all problems.

Youth chooses Buddhism instead but then does go to church where he is transformed. To further his awakening Youth goes to Europe, starting with Amsterdam. He is befriended by free spirited young people. Then he goes to Berlin and is taken in by philosophy spouting existential thinking youth who challenge every thing he thinks and believes. Eventually he has to face who he is and accept it.

The Production. The book and the lyrics are by Stew, the rock composer- musician. He won a Tony award among others for his book of a musical. The music is by Stew and Heidi Rodewald. It’s not just loud and caters to a certain audience; it has a wide range of emotion and appeals to a broad spectrum of music lovers.

And it’s a rock musical and as such takes place at the Opera House on Queen—a rock concert venue, which is perfect for the different kind of show this is. Stews lyrics are poetic and artful and certainly express the conflicted feelings of Youth. It’s presented almost as a rock concert.

Our Narrator is a guitar-playing dynamo named Stew—and is played by the performing dynamo named Beau Dixon. Youth is played by Jahlen Barnes and has such confidence even when playing an insecure youth. He’s a strong singer and impressive musician.
The whole cast is strong and they are beautifully directed by Philip Akin who captures the throb and pulse of the piece.

Comment. Passing Strange presents a new voice in the name or Stew full of sound, fury and lots of significance.

Acting Up Stage Company and Obsidian present:

First performance: Jan. 24, 2017.
Closes: Feb. 5, 2017.
Cast: 7; 4 men, 3 women
Running Time: 100 minutes approx.

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