Review By Broadway Magazine
There can be no mistake, young or old, Passing Strange is the musical event of the season! The story unites past and present, youth and experience, mother and child, spanning generations and continents, the journey of the character simple known as Youth recalls the classic journey narratives of ages past. In that sense it is a timeless story, and Stew and company add a cross-generational grin that is always hovering beneath the catchy riffs and transcendent rhymes. This clever perspective on the coming-of-age story is refreshing. Watching the on-stage “real” artists, most of whom appear in their 40s, witness a young character express horror at turning 30 offers an instant juxtaposition of both the tragedy and comedy of the passing of time. Sure, this Broadway show has elements of a concert, and a concept album, and a musical, but what makes the most lasting impression is Passing Strange as a work of theatre.
While there is the constant presence on-stage of a group of musicians playing instruments and serving as a chorus to the tale, it is not fair to characterize Passing Strange as a “rock musical.” The musical numbers are too varied and diverse to fall into a simple musical genre. Whether it is the glorious sequence “Keys” that is both soft and powerful, or the cheeky “We Just Had Sex” which feels like a contemporary progeny of Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It”, the score of Passing Strange is rich with surprises. Maxwell Anderson once said, “Theatre needs poetry, and poetry needs an audience.” In Passing Strange, the musical synthesis of poetry, theatre, and music is high-energy Broadway magic. There is indeed poetry here, and the rhythms and rhymes are pleasing and profound. Even better is a uniquely self-effacing sophistication about the overall tone of Passing Strange that is infinitely likeable. While the front man for the story is the musician Stew, this musical is clearly a collaboration of artists bound by a common story and shared vision. Particular praise to Stew and Heidi Rodewald, director Annie Dorsen, Karole Armitage’s choreography, and a flawless cast led by Daniel Breaker. Though the show features sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, there is nothing uncomfortable in the way these topics are addressed. Even at its most blunt, the aim of Passing Strange is to charm, and it never fails to hit its target.
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