Tony-Winning Musical PASSING STRANGE Begins This Winter at The Wilma Theater
Music takes center stage as a charismatic Narrator tells the tale of the Youth, a rebellious young African-American man who journeys to Europe in search of something "real." He travels from gospel-soaked South Central LA through psychedelic Amsterdam to militant Berlin and back. This incendiary musical is a rowdy salve for turbulent times: a young punk screaming in defiance of the void, with an electric onstage band.
Passing Strange begins on Wednesday, January 10th, 2018, and opens on Wednesday, January 17th, 2018.
Passing Strange greets its audience with a larger-than-life rock band with a deep base line and sharp guitar solos ("Prologue/We Might Play All Night"). The singer introduces himself as the Narrator of the show and invites his audience to listen to a tale of Youth, a young man who breaks free from his hometown after a spiritual awakening ("Church Blues Revelation/Freight Train") to journey to Europe and find the "real." Throughout his journey, Youth explores the indulgences of a bohemian lifestyle with sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll ("Amsterdam"); encounters brutal questions of his own sense of self ("Passing Phase"); and grows into a man who finds that love outshines the "real" ("Love Like That").
After last season's sellout run of Stew and Heidi Rodewald's Notes of a Native Song, the Wilma brings a revival of their Passing Strange to the theater's stage ten years after its original run on Broadway. "I love Stew's and Heidi's music and this story of an artist for whom art becomes his religion, much to the detriment of the relationships with people who love him," says Wilma Artistic Director Blanka Zizka. Tea Alagi? returns to the Wilma to direct Passing Strange after last season's Constellations. "There is a battle between the love for art and the love for family in this piece, especially within the relationship of the Youth and his mother," describes Alagi?. "It's a terrific musical and a beautiful piece of writing. With the cast we have it will have a whole new life."
Passing Strange's cast of seven is a mixture of Wilma HotHouse Company members and actors making their debut at The Wilma Theater. Kris Coleman steps into the shoes of the Narrator, a role originated by Stew in the 2008 production. Coleman made his Broadway debut in Jersey Boys as Hal Miller and has performed in such shows as Once on This Island, Sister Act, and Smokey Joe's Café. Jamar Williams stars alongside Coleman as the Youth. Williams appeared most recently in the Off-Broadway production of The Hairy Ape (alongside Bobby Canavale) and has performed at Actors Theatre of Louisville, American Repertory Theatre, and Signature Theatre.
Kimberly S. Fairbanks plays the Youth's mother, whose notable Philadelphia roles include Millie Wilkinson in Because of Winn Dixie at Delaware Theatre Company and Camila in In the Heights at the Walnut Street Theatre.
The cast also includes three HotHouse Company members Taysha Marie Canales (Sheri/Renata/Desi) and Lindsay Smiling (Mr. Franklin/Joop/Hugo), who both performed in the Wilma's recent production of Blood Wedding, as well as Anthony Martinez-Briggs (Terry/Christophe/Venus) who made a splash with his local band ILL DOOTS in the Wilma's 2016 production of An Octoroon. Newcomer and Temple graduate student Savannah Jackson rounds out the cast as Edwina/Marianna/Sudabey.
The cast is joined by an onstage rock band, led by music director Amanda Morton. Having worked at Arden Theatre Company (A Year with Frog and Toad, Passion, Parade) and the Classic Stage Company (A Doctor in Spite of Himself), this will be Morton's first time working at the Wilma, taking charge of a four-piece rock band including guitarist Jake Hager, drummer Ben Diamond, and bassist Ellyn Heald. Prior to rehearsals, Morton (who will be the pianist) and the band participated in workshops with Stew to learn the songs of the musical and create their onstage band dynamic.
The Honorary Producers for Passing Strange are Tobey and Mark Dichter.
WILMA AT AURORA AND SPECIAL EVENTS:
Extending beyond our stage, our new lobby café, renamed Wilma at Aurora, will be a space for patrons to explore our productions and engage with the Philadelphia theater community. Run by Good Karma Cafe, this café is open to community and audience members alike throughout the week. The Wilma's goal is to create an intimate and casual setting for our patrons to gather for a quick bite or drink and conversation.
LIVE IN THE CAFÉ: The Passing Strange Band, Featuring Stew
Monday, December 11, 8:00pm
For one night only the band of Passing Strange will perform songs from the musical with Tony Award-winner and creator Stew. A part of the rehearsal process to form the sound of the onstage band, see this sneak peek of the musical that The New York Times called a "rock concert with a story to tell." Whether you've listened to the Passing Strange album religiously or you've never seen the show, this will be an experience you won't want to miss. This is a pay-what-you-can event. Tickets will be available at the door. Payment in $5 increments is preferred.
Wednesday, January 10 - February 18, Post-Show
After every performance, join us for an informal discussion about the production with Wilma artists and staff. Discuss what resonated with you during the performance with a drink from Good Karma Cafe.
Friday, January 12, 7:00pm
Grab a FREE beer before the show with our pre-show beer tasting. Featuring local craft breweries, Beer Nights are a part of the first Friday performance of every production.
Directors Gathering Dialogue
Tuesday, January 16, Post-Show
In this audience-led post-show discussion, a member of the Directors Gathering sits down with the director of the Wilma's current production to explore the artistic process. Directors Gathering Dialogues are a part of the first Tuesday performance of every production.
Post-Show Artistic Chats
Thursday, January 18 and 25, Post-Show
Go behind-the-scenes of the production with the Wilma's artistic team. The discussions include dramaturgical information about the production and special guests.
Young Friends Night
Friday, January 26, 7:00pm
Join our Young Friends Committee before and after the performance as they serve up the best of Philly bites and drinks. Learn more about The Wilma Theater Young Friends on Facebook @WilmaYF.
Open Captioned Performance
Saturday, February 3, 2:00pm
Passing Strange in Another Brooklyn
Thursday, February 8, 7:00pm
Through explorations of identity that cross the globe, both Passing Strange and Another Brooklyn shine a light on the complexity of coming-of-age. In this discussion of Stew and Heidi Rodewald's musical and Jacqueline Woodson's novel, dive deeper into both protagonists' stories through a lively discussion, led by the One Book, One Philadelphia and The Wilma Theater's Portable Studio staff in open community discussion about home, the power of music, and self-discovery.
Three years ago, the Wilma launched a new ticket initiative designed to remove the barrier of cost. For Passing Strange, the first week of performances is $25 for general admission, and $10 for students and theater industry members with valid ID. For the subsequent three weeks, general admission tickets are $30 and student/industry tickets are $10. For the 5th and 6th week of performances general admission tickets are $45, industry tickets are $15, and student tickets are $10. Tickets are available at the Wilma's Box Office by visiting wilmatheater.org, calling 215.546.7824, or by coming to the theater.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS:
Stew is the book writer, co-composer and lyricist for Passing Strange (2008 Tony Award Best Book, two-time 2007 Obie for Best New Theater Piece and Best Ensemble); Family Album (2014 Oregon Shakespeare Festival); Notes of a Native Song (Spring 2015 Harlem Stage, Fall 2016 The Wilma Theater); Wagner, Max! Wagner! (Fall 2015 Kennedy Center); The Total Bent (Public Theater 2016); Making It (Spring 2010 St. Anne's Warehouse); Brooklyn Omnibus (Fall 2010 Brooklyn Academy Of Music); Resurrection City (2016 Studio Theatre); Chicago Omnibus (Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago 2012). He appeared in Spike Lee's Passing Strange, a filmed version of the production at the Belasco Theater. In the early 90s, he formed his band Stew and The Negro Problem. Albums include Post Minstrel Syndrome, Joys and Concerns, Guest Host and The Naked Dutch Painter (both named Album of the Year by Entertainment Weekly), Welcome Black, Something Deeper than These Changes, Making It, and the cast album of Passing Strange. The band has appeared numerous times at Lincoln Center, United Nations, and Symphony Space. Stew is co-composer (with Heidi Rodewald) of "Gary Come Home," for SpongeBob SquarePants. He has received an honorary degree at Oshkosh University, Wisconsin (Doctor of Humane Letters); California Institute of the Arts; The New School; Stanford; University of Wisconsin, Madison; and University of the Arts, in Philadelphia. Stew is a Sundance Institute Alum.
Heidi Rodewald is the Tony Award-nominated, Obie Award-winning co-composer of Passing Strange, which transferred from The Public Theater to Broadway in 2008. Rodewald composed music for Karen Kandel's Portraits: Night and Day (2004); Brides of the Moon by The Five Lesbian Brothers (2010); and co-composed music for Shakespeare's Othello, Much Ado About Nothing and Romeo and Juliet (2010-12). Rodewald joined the band The Negro Problem in 1997, where she began a longtime collaboration with singer songwriter, Stew. She has collaborated with him in a range of capacities - as a co-composer, producer, arranger and performer. She is the co-composer with Stew of the musical Family Album, which premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival during the 2014 season; Notes of a Native Song, at Harlem Stage in 2015; Wagner, Max! Wagner! at the Kennedy Center in 2015; and The Total Bent, at The Public Theater, May 2016. Heidi is the composer for The Good Swimmer with librettist Donna DiNovelli, presented by Prototype Festival January 2016 at space HERE in NYC, and scored the film I Dream Too Much, which had its world premiere at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival.
Director Tea Alagic is an internationally-acclaimed multilingual director. Based in NYC, her credits include off-Broadway, regional, and international productions of both traditional theater and devised work. She holds a BFA in acting from Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, and an MFA in directing from the Yale School of Drama, where she received the Julian Milton Kaufman Prize in Directing. Alagi? is the Head of the MFA Directing department at The New School for Drama in New York City and an artist-in-residence at Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn.
At the Wilma, Alagic last directed Nick Payne's Constellations, a part of the 2016/17 Season. Other directing credits include the world premiere of Tarell McCraney's The Brothers Size at The Public Theater, NYC, and later productions at the Studio Theatre in Washington DC, The Actors Theatre of Louisville, the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, and The Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Other selected credits: the North American premiere of Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek's Jackie starring Tina Benko at NY City Center (multiple Lortel Award nominations); Charise Smith's Washeteria at Soho Rep; Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet starring Elizabeth Olsen and Julian Cihi at CSC Rep; Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig's Lidless at Page 73; and productions of a wide repertory of plays and musicals at Baryshnikov Arts Center, The Kitchen, the Carlotta Festival, Ensemble Studio Theatre, La Mama ETC, Women's Project Theater, Asolo Rep, Hispanic Cultural Center/Albuquerque, ZKM/Croatia, 4+4 Festival/Prague, and Battersea Arts Centre/London.
Alagic was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina. After fleeing in 1992, she made her way to New York City by way of Germany, Czech Republic, England, and Canada. Along the journey, she continued to develop her talents as a pianist, dancer, circus performer, actor, director and taco chef. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, photographer Slaven Vlasic, and their son Sebastian.
The artistic team includes Set Designer Scott Pask, Lighting Designer Thom Weaver (Blood Wedding, Adapt!), Costume Designer Vasilija Zivanic (When the Rain Stops Falling, The Hard Problem), Music Director Amanda Morton, Sound Designer Nick Kourtides, Projection Designers Christopher Ash (Adapt!) and Tal Yarden, choreographer Constantine Baecher, and Dramaturg Walter Bilderback. The production's resident stage manager is Patreshettarlini Adams, and its production manager is Clayton Tejada.
The Wilma Theater creates living, adventurous art. We engage artists and audiences in imaginative reflection on the complexities of contemporary life. We present bold, original, well-crafted productions that represent a range of voices, viewpoints, and styles.