Saturday, February 13, 2016

theatre review - PASSING STRANGE - iTheatre Collaborative - February 11, 2016

Miguel Jackson and Tiffany Pope
photo courtesty iTheatre Collaborative
Click here for more information on this production that runs through February 20th.

"You have to hand it to iTheatre Collaborative for having the guts to bring a virtually unknown musical like Passing Strange to town. While this musical won a Tony for Best Book it didn’t last long on Broadway, running just five months. But the raw nerve of the story and fresh energy of the rock enthused score make this a show that is about as far from a traditional musical as you can get. It also has a genuinely sincere and poignant message at its center. iTheatre’s production features some of the best African American musical theatre talent in the Valley and, while there are some flaws in the quirky, rock heavy show, this production is rock solid.... follows the story of a young, lost, black man from L.A., simply called “Youth,” who has to travel to Europe to learn about acceptance. Along the way he experiments with drugs, has encounters with an assortment of characters and adapts, learns and grows from these experiences. The score by Stew (aka Mark Stewart) and Heidi Rodewald is a mix of R&B, funk, pop, rock and the blues. However, the repetitive lyrics and false rhymes are sloppy and, though most of the score is catchy, not much of it will resonate with you once you leave the theatre. The story, which is based somewhat on Stew’s past, is also simple and somewhat unoriginal. It is also a little pretentious in how the main character is called “Youth” while every other character in the show has an actual name. The ending of both acts is also somewhat unfocused and there are some messy moments along the way....Fortunately...the struggle of this young man who escapes to discover who he is will resonate with anyone who has ever struggled to find a place to belong and a "tribe" to call their own. ...Director Jeff Kennedy draws inspiring performances from his cast, many of whom play multiple roles. ...The intimacy of the Kax stage at the Herberger Theatre Center also adds another element of connectivity between story, cast and audience. Miguel Jackson and Matravius Avent are exceptional as the Narrator and the Youth. Jackson skillfully guides us through the Youth’s story with a knowing wink in his eye and a sobering, confidential delivery...Avent is very good as the angry young black man who is struggling with his identity and trying to find a way in his middle-class world to figure out who he is and to find his “blackness.” ...As his Mother, DeAngelus Grisby is heartbreaking, distinct and warm. The four other cast members play a variety of roles...All seven have stellar singing voices that make the songs soar. Slightly eccentric, somewhat pretentious and often saying very little while at other times saying a lot, Passing Strange is still a very funny, charming and sincere musical unlike just about any other musical out there. Even with the shortfalls of the story and the mostly unforgettable score it still tells a truthful story of acceptance and self-discovery that blends the past with the present by having an older man narrate the story of his own youthful journey. iTheatre Collaborative’s production may not appeal to everyone but those looking for a musical that is fresh and vibrant, with an exceptionally gifted cast, will find much to like." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

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