Spike Lee Talks PASSING STRANGE To BlackBookmag.com

It is difficult to imagine a greater fan of the recent Tony Award-winning Passing Strange than Spike Lee.  After seeing the show twice in the same weekend during its stint at The Public Theater, Lee's "nightmare," he tells Blackbookmag.com was that "at some point it was going to close and that it was just all going to all go away."  Hence the inspiration for his new documentary, "Passing Strange," which documents the stage show he filmed in July just prior to the show's closing.  

After winning several awards at Sundance, "Passing Strange" is now playing at the IFC in New York, on the IFC channel and will soon be broadcast on PBS.  Lee sat down this week with original creators Stew and Heidi Rodewald and Blackbook.com to discuss of "Strange." 

Passing Strange is the story of a restless young black musician who leaves his middle-class upbringing in L.A. and embarks on a journey of escape and exploration, only to discover that the voyage within is what matters most.

The show, which opened at the Belasco on February 28, 2009 and ran through July has been one of the most critically-acclaimed, buzzed-about musicals on Broadway in recent memory. The musical received the Best Musical prizes from the New York Drama Critics' Circle, the Drama Desk and Village Voice Obies, in addition to the Tony Award for Best Book.

With book and lyrics by Stew, music by Stew and Heidi Rodewald, Passing Strange on Broadway is directed and created in collaboration with Annie Dorsen. The cast featured Tony nominee De'Adre Aziza, Tony nominee Daniel Breaker, Eisa Davis, Colman Domingo, Chad Goodridge, Rebecca Naomi Jones and Stew, himself, as well as the band of musicians who join the cast on stage -- Heidi Rodewald, Jon Spurney, Chrisian Cassan, Christian Gibbs and again, Stew. Karole Armitage choreographed. 

Blown away by the performance, Lee's inspiration for the film was to imprint the piece for posterity...so that it quite actually could not ever "go away."  He explains: "I was ready to get some of my friends in with pirate cameras to do whatever I could (to tape it), because I couldn't walk away from the show not having at least a decent document."

While some were surprised by Lee's draw to such a project, he explains that doing this piece was entirely natural, as the show's themes are reflected throughout his body of work. "People tend to concentrate on Do the Right Thing being the focus of my worldview, but I think that if one takes time to look at it, the body of work also includes documentaries. Jim Brown: All American, When the Levees Broke, right? But this shows the vastness of the African American experience. That it's not one-note, it's not monolithic. I don't think that we should disregard the Brothers and Sisters that are--because of whatever circumstances--livin' in the ghetto. At the same time [...] we should not ridicule ourselves because of how we talk, or where we went to school, or how we live. I mean: there's room for everybody."

Stew and Heidi were happy to endorce the project.  Says Stew "To me? That was the lord. I could look at every other musical going on that year, and go: okay, fine, you got what you got, but you know, a hundred years from now when someone's trying to figure out what the hell is going on with America..."

Click here to access the full interview.

The film is co produced by Lee and Steve Klein.  While Klein is not a movie producer by trade, he felt compelled to capture Passing Strange on film.  He approached his business partners at his investment firm Apple Core Holdings -- Ken Grief, Larry Horn and Will Kohane -- all of whom decided to join Mr. Klein in financing the film as Executive Producers.  40 Acres and a Mule is the Production Company for the shoot with Butch Robinson line producing and David Miller and Janet Pailet are Associate Producers.
 
Passing Strange was produced on Broadway by The Shubert Organization, Elizabeth Ireland McCann LLC, Bill Kenwright, Chase Mishkin, Terry Allen Kramer, Barbara & Buddy Freitag, Broadway Across America, Emily Fisher Landau, Peter May, Boyett Ostar, Larry Hirschhorn, Janet Pallet/Steve Klein, Elie Herschfeld/Jed Bernstein, Spring Sirkin/Ruth Hendel, Vasi Lawrence/Pat Flicker Addiss, Wendy Federma/Jacki Barlia Florin, Joey Parnes, Executive Director, in association with The Public Theater and The Berkeley Repertory Theatre.
 
In addition to Spike Lee and thousands of other theater goers who have been surprised, entertained, moved, challenged by PASSING STRANGE, the musical has attracted a vast array of key figures to the Belasco Theatre:  Toni Morrison (thrice!), Angela Davis (thrice!), Denzel Washington, Diana Ross, Whoopi Goldberg, Samuel L. Jackson, Edward Albee, Bette Midler, Julie Harris, Barbara Walters, Harry Belafonte, Terrence McNally, Audra McDonald, Marian Seldes (thrice!), Rosie O'Donnell, Melvin and Mario Van Peebles, Dr. Cornell West, James Lipton and many more.

Photo Credit: Fernando Leon/Retna Ltd.




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