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PASSING STRANGE Closes Karamu House's 2017/18 Season


PASSING STRANGE Closes Karamu House's 2017/18 Season

Karamu House, the oldest multicultural performing arts center in the country, closes it's 102nd consecutive season with the Tony Award-winning musical Passing Strange. Karamu House President and CEO, Tony F. Sias notes, "this is a piece that is important and relevant, and speaks to and engages our millennial and 'genZ' generations." With book and lyrics written by Tony Award-winning singer-songwriter Stew, and music composed by Stew and Heidi Rodewald, the production opened on May 10 and will run through June 3, 2018 in Karamu's Arena Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio.

Directed by Nathan A. Lilly and music directed by Ed Ridley, Jr., Passing Strange features a standout cast with credits that span three continents, including Darius J, Stubbs as The Narrator, Justin C. Woody as Youth, and Treva Offutt as Mother.

Music takes center stage in this semi-autobiographical story of a young, rebellious, African-American man who leaves behind his middle-class, church-ruled upbringing in mid-1970s Los Angeles to travel to Europe in search of his artistic and personal identity, or what he calls "the real." There, he decides to exploit a character as a cool, black expatriate-musician who speaks for his people while exploring the world of sex, drugs, politics and art. In the end, he discovers that cultural complexity-and hypocrisy-are not limited to middle-class African-American life, and that, only love, rather than art, is truly more than real.

Originally workshopped at the Sundance Theatre Lab in 2004, Passing Strange premiered at the Berkeley Repertory in 2006. It was produced at The Public Theatre in NYC in 2007 under the direction of Annie Dorsen, and then transferred to Broadway in 2008. The production garnered critical acclaim, receiving seven Tony Award nominations, winning one for Best Book of a Musical. The production also earned three Drama Desk Awards (Best Musical, Best Music, Best Lyrics), a New York Drama Critics Circle Award (Best Musical), an Audelco Award (Best Musical), and an Obie Award (Best New Theatre Piece). The Broadway production was adapted into a feature film by award-winning African-American producer and director Spike Lee. The first regional production opened at The Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C. in 2010. It was the first production of Passing Strange to not include co-creator Stew as the Narrator.

Stew (book, lyrics, music) is the critically acclaimed singer, songwriter, founder, and leader of The Negro Problem, a pop-rock combo from Los Angeles whose works include "Post Minstrel Syndrome", "Joys and Concerns", and "Welcome Black". Along with Heidi Rodewald, he co-founded the Afro-Baroque cabaret ensemble known as STEW. Their works include "Guest Host", "The Naked Dutch Painter", and "Something Deeper Than These Changes". He was an artist-in-residence at the California Institute of the Arts, Sundance Theater Lab, Sundance Screenwriter's Lab, and Sundance Director's Lab. Stew is also the composer of "Gary Come Home" for the "SpongeBob SquarePants" cartoon. Stew and collaborator Heidi Rodewald reunited in 2016 to present the world premiere of The Total Bent at The Public Theatre.

Heidi Rodewald (music) has spent over a decade as a performer, arranger, producer, and composer for both The Negro Problem and the multi-disciplinary ensemble known as STEW. She composed music for Karen Kandel's Portraits: Night And Day and co-wrote with Stew the screenplay We Can See Today for Sundance Screenwriters Lab/Director's Lab. She wrote and performed with seminal female punk band Wednesday Week. Rodewald co-wrote the music for 2016 world premiere of The Total Bent at The Public Theatre in NYC.

At the helm of the Karamu House production is Nathan A. Lilly, who has worked as an actor, director, and producer with Karamu for nearly a decade. Nathan served as director-choreographer of Karamu's regional premiere of From My Hometown by Lee Summers, as well as director of Dale Orlandersmith's Yellowman (NYC's Project1Voice), and associate director of the regional premiere of Caroline, or Change. Select directing credits include: Elton John & Tim Rice's Aida, Smokey Joes Café, Ain't Misbehavin', The Wiz, Once On This Island, Anything Goes, and Guys & Dolls. He has worked with The Kennedy Center for Performing Arts TYA/USA, Cleveland Play House, Cleveland Public Theatre, Great Lakes Theater, Dobama Theatre, The Beck Center for the Arts, Ensemble Theatre, Porthouse Theatre, Cain Park, Playwrights Local, The Maltz Museum, The Musical Theater Project, Case Western Reserve University, Kent State University, and Talespinner Children's Theatre.

Overseeing musical aspects of the production is Ed Ridley, Jr., who served as music director for Karamu's celebrated productions of Simply Simone, Sister Act, The Wiz, The Color Purple, and Caroline, Or Change. Other notable credits includes: Crowns, The Piano Lesson, Love Janis, The Amen Corner and Ain't Misbehavin'. His versatility and talent as a performer have allowed him to accompany such great artists as Aretha Franklin, Lauryn Hill, Walter Hawkins, Jon Hendricks, and Clark Terry.

The company of storytellers is led by Darius J. Stubbs as The Narrator, whose credits include Cleveland Public Theatre's Red Ash Mosaic and Rusted Heart Broadcast, Cleveland Shakespeare Festival's Titus Andronicus (Aaron the Moor), Great Lakes Theater's Comedy of Errors (Sir Balthazar), and The Boys Next Door (Lucien P. Smith). Appearing as Youth is Justin C. Woody, whose regional credits include Shrek the Musical (Donkey), Memphis (Gator), Beauty and the Beast (Lumier), and Hairspray (Seaweed). In the role of Mother is Treva Offutt, a visual and performing artist who has worked with NYC's Urban Bush Women, Belgium's Remote Control Productions, Ireland's Daghdha Dance Company and India's Adishakti Theater Company.

Rounding out the ensemble is Carlos Antonio Cruz as Mr. Franklin (The Little Mermaid, Beck Center for the Arts); Joshua McElroy as Rev. Jones (world premiere of Br'er Cotton, Cleveland Public Theatre); Mary-Francis R. Miller as Marianna (the Ohio premiere of In Red and Brown Water); and CorLesia Smith as Desi (regional premieres of Simply Simone and The Color Purple, Karamu House).

Passing Strange is sponsored by E.F. Boyd & Son Funeral Home. Tickets ranging from $15-$37 can be reserved online via or by calling 216.795.7077.

Karamu House is grateful for the generous support from the following 2017-2018 season sponsors: Ohio Arts Council, Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, The Cleveland Foundation, KeyBank Foundation, The George Gund Foundation, The Good Community Foundation, Bank of America, The Kulas Foundation, Dominion Energy, and Boyd Funeral Home. Karamu's 2018-2019 theatrical season is set to be released in June 2018. For more information about Karamu, visit

In 1915, Oberlin College graduates Russell and Rowena Jelliffe opened the Playhouse Settlement in a Cleveland area called The Roaring Third. The Jelliffes wanted to build an environment where people of different races, religions, and social and economic backgrounds could come together to seek and share common ventures through the arts, and Karamu House was established as a gathering place for racially-diverse members of the surrounding community at that time. As the community became predominantly African American, Karamu responded with programs geared to their needs and interests. Today, Karamu is evolving to be reborn as a beating heart for the entire community, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identification, or age, as it embarks on its second 100 years, retaining its historical identity as "a place of joyful gathering." Core programs include a five-performance, socially-relevant and professional quality theatre season; arts education in drama/theatre, music and dance for all ages; and community programming, such as a lecture series, and spoken word and music performances, that invites participation and engagement, reflection, and a re-commitment to cultural values.

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