Life story

Stew’s Groundbreaking Musical ‘Passing Strange’ Tells a Unique African-American Life Story | Arts & Theater

The Schools of Drama and Design and Production at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts will present the groundbreaking rock musical “Passing Strange,” by singer-songwriter and performance artist Stew .

The musical, directed by guest faculty member Christopher Burris, with choreography by faculty member Krisha Marcano and musical direction by Dionne McClain-Freeney, opens Thursday.

Besides “The Color Purple”, “Passing Strange” is one of the few Broadway musicals to have captured the African-American experience written by an African-American artist. Stew wrote the lyrics and the book, with orchestrations by Heidi Rodewald and Stew, in collaboration with director Annie Dorsen.

Developed at the Sundance Institute’s Theater Lab in 2004-2005, “Passing Strange” was produced off-Broadway at the Public Theater before a Broadway run in 2008. Its final performances were filmed for posterity by Spike Lee.

The musical’s publisher describes it as a “journey through the boundaries of place, identity and theatrical conventions: part musical theatre, part rock concert and part performance art.”

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“As the character of Youth carves a path to the ‘real’ through drugs, sex and rock’n’roll, he moves from black and middle-class America to Amsterdam, Berlin and beyond. on a journey towards personal and artistic authenticity.The young person finds that he can express himself more freely in a Europe less entangled in racism than at home in America.

Deandre Sevon plays Youth and Murphy Lorenzo Applin Jr. is the narrator. They are both fourth year students.

Applin, playing a man in his 40s, can act on both his lived experience as a young African-American artist and expand into the world of an older man.

“I’m glad we can have a show where almost every performer in the room is black,” Applin said. “We are not just black people; we are also a community.

“This is the first black show I’ve been on that I don’t have to dig into trauma. Written by an American who moved to Europe where he was able to embrace his otherness, it’s not than a play; it’s a life story.

Applin said director Burris gave him the freedom to express himself in character.

“I tried my best not to play Stew. His experience is his experience. So I brought as much of myself as possible to this role,” Applin said. to be able to be interpreted in several ways.

Sevon describes Youth’s role as “the narrator tells the story, and I’m the one who walks through it,” he said. “It’s really crazy to live this experience. I’m really having fun, and everyone looks amazing.

“I feel like I’m getting ready for Broadway.”

Sevon and Applin met when they were both freshmen.

“I’m starting to work with some of my friends that I’ve been dying to work with for years,” Sevon said. “When Murphy and I met four years ago, we used to sing and improvise together. ‘Passing Strange’ is like a full-loop moment for us.

The “Passing Strange” production reflects the drama school’s ongoing efforts to expand programming to include more works created by communities historically underrepresented in the entertainment industry, the school said. .

“At UNCSA, we have such a diverse student body, and we are committed to finding stories that reflect the lived experience of these students,” said Scott Zigler, dean of the School of Drama.

“We are in a golden age of American playwriting with writers like Lynn Nottage, Jeremy O. Harris and Young Jean Lee,” Zigler said.

“But there is still little representation of their communities in American musical theater. By providing the opportunities available in ‘Passing Strange’, we are trying to rectify this in a small way.

One of Sevon’s favorite moments comes near the end of the show.

“One of the characters says to the narrator, ‘The character in your story is looking for something that can only be found in art,’ and it resonates with me every time.”

Rounding out the cast, Jasmine Hurt (as Heidi); Kennedy Jackson (Marianna, Edwina and Sudabey); Bailey James (mother); Seth McLaughlin (Reverend Jones, Terry, Christopher and Hugo); Maleek Slade (Franklin, Mr. Venus and Joop); and Aisha Sougou (Kelso, Desi, Sherry and Renata).

The School of Design and Production technicians include Gisela Estrada (Scenic Designer), Cassandra Sisson (Costume Designer), Nathaniel Jones (Wig and Makeup Designer), Wheeler Moon (Lighting Designer), Samuel Hayes ( sound designer), Ryan Lasich (technical director) and Becky Hicks (props director). Katie Pulling (stage manager), Kaci Kidder (automation engineer), Lauren Kean (production manager), Joel Magill (production manager) and Amanda Wingo (production manager) complete the team.

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