Passing Strange was the small-scale, autobiographical musical about a rocker named Stew‘s adventures as a teen, breaking out of the racial restrictions of his religious upbringing and finding himself abroad in search of “the real.”
The show was like an open wound, reveling in the feelings of youth, when everything that happens to you seems to take on massive implications. The joy of it was in the small but talented cast playing multiple roles as they acted out the witty script and deeply personal score, with Stew himself narrating, overlooking, and joining in.
The high point was a scene where he sings advice directly to the wonderful Daniel Breaker as the young Stew, the kind of layered moment you don’t get in all those movie-to-Broadway tuners for tourists.
The show built around that moment wasn’t perfect–it’s self-indulgent by nature, with a few too may songs building to repetitive yelps–but it was a welcome jolt on Broadway, where it briefly gave the original musical genre some fresh hope.
And now it’s a Spike Lee joint, Lee nabbing raves for having adapted it so expertly. The reality is, it must have been the easiest job he ever had! As I see it, all the work had already been done, and Spike simply had to go in there with a few cameras and shoot some performances, then edit it so it rocks.
Fortunately, that was done proficiently enough, and the result is just like the stage musical (but without an intermission). If you liked the stage musical, you know what to do.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 25, 2009