BWW Review: Aurora Fox's PASSING STRANGE is Exceptional

BWW Review: Aurora Fox's PASSING STRANGE is ExceptionalMusicals generally give me all kinds of feels, but Passing Strange hit me deep. Give me an existential journey and I'm totally on board, but present it the way this musical does, and it could change the way you look at your own life.

Passing Strange, which had a short life on Broadway in 2008, was filmed by Spike Lee for a premiere at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. The Broadway production garnered several Tony nominations, but only won for Best Book of A Musical by Stew, who also penned the music with Heidi Rodewell. The Aurora Fox is giving the show its regional debut after nearly a decade since its release.

I was unaware of Stew before Passing Strange was released, and I haven't heard much from him since, but the energy he incorporates into modern bluesy jazz is thrilling. His lyrics are frequently poetic. Stew knows how to tell a story.

BWW Review: Aurora Fox's PASSING STRANGE is ExceptionalNarrated by Stew (who's played by Trent Armand Kendall in this production), the story follows a character only known as Youth (Joseph Lamar), a middle-class African American who lives with his Mother (Sheryl McCallum), and doesn't feel like he fits in with his community. He forms in a punk band and wants to travel, so he does, against the approval of his mother. His journey takes his through Amsterdam and Germany, where he develops his artistry by immersing himself in promiscuous and eccentric cultures, searching for what feels real. An ensemble featuring Randy Chalmers, Faith Angelise Goins, Shane Franklin and Katherine Paynter play various roles throughout his journey.

Directed by Nick Sugar, the Fox's production surges with a tangible fusion of emotions. Part of that is due to a scenic design by Brandon Philip Case that pairs incredibly well with a vibrant lighting design by Brett Maughan. It's stunning in its simplicity.

But while this show is already brilliant in its own right, the performers breathe the kind of dynamic energy into each character that makes them (sometimes literally) just right off the stage.

BWW Review: Aurora Fox's PASSING STRANGE is ExceptionalKendall's Stew is a strong narrator, presenting the story heart-first with a touch of humor, grounding the storytelling. Lamar's Youth plays the role with the right kind of honesty. You feel every one of his emotions, and you understand his decisions. He gives the role a visible journey , which is so essential to the show's core. McCallum has both warmth and strength as his Mother. The ensemble flows through a variety of unconventional characters, providing just as much humanity as whimsy.

You're offered a raw look into a young man's journey, and it's rarely mundane. Every song is so diligently formed, lyrically and otherwise, and often the momentum they take totally consumes you.

Without a doubt one of the more powerfully insightful pieces of theatre I've attended in a while. I would have regretted missing it.

Passing Strange plays the Aurora Fox Arts Center through May 13. Tickets available at AuroraFox.org.

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