Broadway Features and Reviews
Passing Strange Broadway Ghost
Haunted Broadway Theatre built by Campaign Button Inventor
By Ellen Anthony, Broadway Magazine
There is no more fitting title for a Broadway production this season than Passing Strange.
That is the title of the new Broadway musical written by and starring Stew, an LA theatre artist, this downtown import’s
title aptly describes a Broadway season that has seen a stage-hand strike, Mark Twain’s new play, David Mamet’s president,
an Inge triumph on Broadway, an influx of non-musicals, a cupcake named for Harvey Fierstein’s A Catered Affair,
and Clay Aiken in Spamalot. Passing strange, indeed.
The man behind the new Broadway musical Passing Strange is Stew, and the off-Broadway version of his production earned exceptional reviews and celebrity champions, including Spike Lee. The musical, hailed by critics for being both timely and entertaining, tells the story of a young LA musician on a journey of discovery, Playing at The Belasco Theatre, Stew couldn’t have found a better home for his cutting-edge musical theatre creation. “Passing strange” also properly describes David Belasco, the theatre titan who dressed as a Bishop, wrote and produced hit upon hit, and now is said to literally haunt the theatre bearing his name. During his life, Belasco lived in apartments above the stage. In death, he apparently refuses to vacate the premises. Sighting of his ghost are numerous, and include interacting with actors, even shaking their hands. Belasco’s ghost has also been seen sitting in the back row during rehearsals.
Built in 1907, the haunted theatre was originally named The Stuyvesant and though it currently bears Belasco’s moniker,
the unsung hero of that grand theatre is Meyer R. Bimberg, who rose to fame as “Bim the Button Man.” A colorful character
in his own right, Bimberg made his fortune as the creator of the modern political campaign button. In 1896, according to a New York Times
account, Bim “conceived the idea of picturing the candidates on buttons.” His success was quick and substantial. After amassing a fortune,
he turned his attention to building theatres, and by the time of his death at age 46, he had built 5 theatres both in Harlem and downtown.
The modern-day Belasco Theatre is considered his greatest achievement.
In a Broadway season that mirrors the current political campaign year with extraordinary events, achievements, twists and turns, there is poetry in the fact that Stew’s cleverly named Broadway musical will play in a Broadway theatre built by the fortunes of a political campaign button-maker.