By: Graciano Clause
The satiric comedy drama rock musical “Passing Strange” has finally made an appearance from the midtown manhattan Broadway theatre to the little theatre over in Long Island City at Laguardia Performing Arts Center.
Written by singer-songwriter and playwright Mark Stewart who goes by “Stew,” “Passing Strange” is an autobiography of a young African-American artist from Los Angeles who is in search of himself. Youth (Jehan Havé) goes on a artistic journey of self-discovery through Europe.
Directed and Choreographed by Stefanie Sertich, the play was originally produced on Broadway in February 2008 which won a Tony award for “Best Book of a Musical” and received seven Tony nominations, including “Best Musical.”
Sertich had a conceptual approach about the process it took to find theatre majors that would be hooked educationally, spiritually, and artistically when producing the play.
“Now, my concept is different than the original one in terms of the Narrator’s role,” said Sertich. It was played by the writer himself, Stew, but how can someone else ever be the essence of the writer, storyteller? So I got creative and remembered that night in front of my dad’s tv, the themes are universal, this is relatable to everyone.”
Act I begins on a sunday morning in South Central Los Angeles in 1976. The scene opens up with the sounds from the keyboards, drums, bass, and guitar that features a handful of theatrical performances that joins with melodic songs like “Baptist Fashion Show” and “Sole Brother”.
This is where Youth begins his journey as teenager with his mother (Aliayah Murchison) who both live a comfortable middle class life. Youth’s life at this point takes on a nomadic approach where after he can’t withstand the constant battle with his mother. She’s always bringing down his dreams as an artist, on top of being in a clueless punk band that are constantly on drugs he decides to leave for Amsterdam to truly find his role in life. From here on out there is a lot of narration of his alter ego leaving home.
Sertich has a lot of excitement for the audience and for Queens itself.
“I am lucky enough that I get to pick the shows I want to direct at LaGuardia,” Sertich said. “The students deserve something they can really dig their heels into and I hope it will make lasting impressions on them!”
In the second act which brings a more free, vibrant, welcoming tone Youth is has now “broken the chains” and escaped through the door after being a stranger in his own skin. He has arrived in Amsterdam where he meets Renata (Ewa Koziol) an abstract artist and cafe waitress along with a few other casually enlightened regulars. At this point in the play the songs are more powerful and loose with song like “We Just had Sex” sung by the whole cast in a romantic setting. The search for the “Real” while performing for European audiences in a stereotypical view of a black man comes around the time of his calling for love. Amsterdam plays an ironic role because it’s said to be a place where people want to be free with people in search of a high time literally and figuratively with cannabis smoking which is legal there.
The rest of Act II roles on in with heavy metal music where Youth heads to Berlin during the time East and West Berlin had it’s schism. He meets these artists who plot to bring down mainstream media.
The play about music and life takes on a musical exploration of identity crisis, youth angst, and stereotypes through an autobiographical story.
If you Go
When: May 12 -21
Where: LaGuardia Performing Arts Center on 31-10 Thomson Ave, Long Island City, NY
Cost: $10/general, $8/College students
Contact: (718) 482-7206