The original Broadway production of "Passing Strange" opened at the Belasco Theater in New York on Feb. 28, 2008, ran for 165 performances and was nominated for the 2008 Tony Awards for the Best Musical and Score and won for the Best Book. Colman Domingo, De'Adre Aziza, Chad Goodridge, Stew and Daniel Breaker recreated their roles in this filmed production. Daniel Breaker and De'Adre Aziza received Tony Award nomination for acting as did Stew who had four nominations and one win (Best Book). See more »
A noisy hodge-podge with moments, but not for lovers of musicals or *theatre* new or old
It's difficult to imagine what the few "taste makers" who flogged this lame ego piece to a failed Broadway run saw in the performances they saw Off-Broadway to try and make it the darling of the artistic set or what anyone other than a press agent or Spike Lee sycophant sees in this problematic DVD previously shown on the "festival circuit" and (on the release date of the DVD) on PBS.
Welcoming "rock" musicians back to theatre writing is an admirable, even essential idea, but it's best done when the artist in question has a basic love for the theatre - or is persuaded to work with those who who know what they are doing. Try it with a self indulgent "talent" like Stew with a contempt for the genre (expressed explicitly at the cast album recording session and in this filmed performance where he makes it clear that he doesn't like being locked into a fixed "book" and the show will never be revived - even if its lack of commercial success had not assured that already) and it's a recipe for disaster - which is what the Broadway run, recorded here at the closing performance, was. As with any fiasco from BUTTRIO SQUARE to CARRIE, there were a vocal few transported by things that seemed fresh to them, but not enough to keep the show or the film alive in any commercial sense. Sadly, sometimes the verdict of commerce is correct.
During the run of what is essentially a narrated rock concert with second or third tier "rock" music (there are three or four interesting "character" songs and the young Stew's sojourn in Amsterdam *almost* catches fire) hung on the barest of frameworks of Stew's reminiscences of parts of his life (for which he won an indefensible Tony Award for "Best Book" - the show's only, but few seriously expected it to win more - some feared the show's noisy exponents might lift it to one for Stew himself for what amounted to a "personal appearance"), we were told by many friends that Stew's cast album (recorded excerpts done in a fairly normal recording session but, for publicity reasons, in the theatre where the show played, before a live audience who paid for the privilege of observing - Stew narrated for the first few numbers until he got bored and told the audience "you don't need this ****" - the four letter euphemism for excrement is a prohibited word on IBDB, but Stew's own referring to his book!) would have a virtual lock on the Grammy Award because "everyone in the music business" knew and loved Stew.
That claim turned out to be a press agent's (or Stew's) fantasy - the album wasn't even nominated! With the death of the "brick and mortar" record and CD store where we could actually SEE who was selling "in the bins", skeptics were left wondering if Stew WAS even a successful rock artist as the show and its hype claimed, or just another "wanna-be" jazz musician with a good press agent.
This messily packaged DVD was made because Stew WAS able to persuade genius film maker Spike Lee that he (Stew) was another self made genius, and throw his name and money behind the project. Before seeing the result, there was considerable concern that the result might be just a documentary on the show without really SHOWING much of it. That fear at least was allayed. All that's here (other than the usual backstage features as "extras") is a filming of the closing performance
although it's an open question how much a new viewer - even one who
might have enjoyed the show - will GET it, given the WAY it's filmed.
It's hard to determine from the finished product how much film maker Spike Lee was actually allowed to do. Rather than elevating the project to Lee's level of inventiveness, we're left with a bad concert badly filmed with madly illogical, unilluminating camera angles frequently blocking the story or the person actually singing, and close-ups which make 1950's television look sensitive and rarely adding any style or point of view to the event being filmed.
Any Broadway "completist" will have to have this disc anyway - it was filmed in the beautiful Belasco Theatre with the cast that actually played the show for its 165 somewhat forced performances (Feb 28 - July 20, 2008), and the supporting cast at least is fully professional - even admirable. Daniel Breaker is particularly good as "Youth" (the Young Stew), although the close-ups and camera angles do him no favors.
It just isn't a very good show to begin with, and very poorly filmed. What a pity.
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