Before it was in workshop, off-Broadway, then on Broadway, the electric musical Passing Strange was a life story: the already rich, then brilliantly embroidered autobiography of the singer-songwriter Mark Stewart, a.k.a. Stew, who wrote and starred in the show. He rightly won a Tony this year for Best Book of a Musical — Passing Strange is his funny, unsparing dissection of growing up weird, gifted and black — but he and his co-composer, bassist Heidi Rodewald, deserved more. Recorded in April before an audience at New York’s Belasco Theatre, the original cast recording (Ghostlight) arrives a little late — the Broadway production closed in July — but preserves the songs’ acerbic sting and dynamic whirl of New Wave snarl (“Sole Brother”), skewered vaudeville (“The Black One”) and shape-shifting soul (“Keys”). You only get the voices of the superb cast and none of the show’s visual, ingenious rock-gig pow, but this album will eventually double as a movie soundtrack: Spike Lee filmed one of the final performances.
[From Issue 1059 — August 21, 2008]