Things You Need To Know Before You See PASSING STRANGE
By Dustin Curry
Who is Stew?
Stew is an internationally renowned, Tony Award-winning singer-songwriter and performance artist who wrote the book and lyrics to Passing Strange. He also co-wrote the music with his artistic partner Heidi Rodewald and appeared as the Narrator in the original Broadway production of the show.
In the 90s, Stew garnered widespread fame with his four-piece (all-Caucasian) band, The Negro Problem. In 2004 he began developing Passing Strange, a semi-autobiographical work that eventually won him a Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical.
He also wrote “Gary’s Song” for Spongebob Squarepants, so there’s that.
Who is Heidi Rodewald?
Stew might be the face of Passing Strange, but Heidi Rodewald has been with him every step of the way, writing songs for the show and performing bass/vocals throughout the Broadway run of the show.
Stew’s artistic partner since the 90s, Heidi Rodewald is a Tony Award nominated, Obie Award winning composer of music for Karen Kandel’s Portraits: Night and Day (2004); Brides of the Moon by The Five Lesbian Brothers (2010); and co-composer for Shakespeare’s Othello and Much Ado About Nothing and Romeo and Juliet (2010-12). Rodewald joined the band The Negro Problem in 1997 and has collaborated with Stew in a range of capacities — as a co-composer, producer/arranger and performer. She is the co-composer with Stew of the musical Family Album, which premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival during the 2014 season, Notes of a Native Song, an homage to the legacy of James Baldwin, at Harlem Stage in 2015, Wagner, Max! Wagner!! at the Kennedy Center in 2015, and The Total Bent at The Public Theater, May 2016. Heidi is the composer of The Good Swimmer, with librettist Donna DiNovelli, presented by Prototype Festival January 2016 at the space HERE in NYC, and scored her first film I Dream Too Much, which had it’s world premiere at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival.
What does the title mean?
Literally, the term “passing strange” comes from Shakespeare’s Othello, where the title character says of Desdemona, “She gave me for my pains a world of sighs; she swore, in faith ‘twas strange, ‘twas passing strange.” Literary personalities such as Henry Fielding and Percy Shelley borrowed the term, and even in his poem “The Passing Strange,” John Masefield writes “Out of the earth to rest or range/Perpetual in perpetual change/The unknown passing through the strange.”
Stew first heard the phrase in comic book adaptation of Othello. “The way Desdemona fell in love with Othello from hearing all his crazy war stories reminded me of the tall tales that rock and roll guys use to impress women,” explains Stew. “But ‘passing strange’ also applies in the context of people ‘passing’ for what they are not – culturally, psychologically and so on. People ‘passing’ as white or rich people ‘passing’ as poor. Slumming is definitely a form of ‘passing.’ ‘Passing is a big word in black culture, and I thought, yeah, I’ve got to use this.”
Who is James Baldwin?
James Baldwin (1924-1987) was an American novelist, essayist, playwright and poet whose philosophy and spirit figure into the characters and plot of Passing Strange. Much like the Youth in the musical, Baldwin, disillusioned with his life in an America defined by prejudice, relocated to Europe in his twenties and began his literary career. He returned to the United States in 1957 as an activist in the Civil Rights Movement.
Contemporary audiences may even recognize him from the 2017 documentary I Am Not Your Negro, which was nominated for an Academy Award.
Book and Lyrics by Stew; Music by Stew and Heidi Rodewald
Directed by vickie washington
March 2-26, 2017
Norma Young Arena Stage at Theatre Three
Tickets: theatre3dallas.com | 214-871-3300