BWW Reviews: PASSING STRANGE from Sidecountry Delivers the Poetic Beauty of a Rock and Roll Life

By: Jun. 14, 2014

How do you put on an autobiographical show, known to be performed by its author, without that author? It's like "700 Sundays" without Billy Crystal or "Elaine Stritch at Liberty" without Elaine Stritch. Well, fledgling theater company Sidecountry Theatre has done just that with their production of "Passing Strange" by Stew and Heidi Rodewald without Stew narrating his own story. And while it's a little odd at first, narrator LeRoy Bell embraces the part and that oddness melts away as his charisma and talent takes center stage.

Part play, part rock concert, but not musical theater (they even mention they don't know how to write that style) the music is clearly Stew's as he takes us on his journey from middle class African American kid in LA into the hash dens of Amsterdam and the performance art scene of Berlin as he searches for "the real". And while Bell narrates us through the journey we meet Stew's younger self referred to only as Youth (Andrew Lee Creech) as he encounters a myriad of eclectic characters all of whom he takes in as his chosen family while attempting to distance himself from his real family and Mother (Marlette Buchanan) back home.

It's a beautiful story filled with richly poetic lyrics and music that matures and changes along with the characters of the piece. Director Tyrone Brown has not only staged the piece brilliantly in the somewhat sightline troubled Bullitt Cabaret space but also captured the flow and heart of Stew's life and words. Music director Jose Gonzales and his kick ass band (Kathy Moore, Matt Jorgensen and Nate Omdal) keep the show rocking without ever overpowering the story. And choreographer Crystal Dawn Munkers has crafted some gorgeously expressive bits that only add to the slightly surreal nature of the show.

But it's the cast that needs to pull this piece off as many of them weave in and out of various characters all the while searching for "the real" and pull it off they do. As I said, Bell manages a presence and strength of a consummate front man. At times some of his timing felt a little off but that could just be opening night settling in, but his obvious respect and love for the piece truly does it honor. Creech manages to truly take on this journey as his arc and growth throughout are quite clear. And with his own likable presence and highly expressive face he's a joy to watch. Buchanan is lovely as a Mother who just wants her son to come home and manages some powerful and heartbreaking moments. And hats off to the ensemble who take on multiple roles and keep the story as rich and colorful as it needs to be and each take their opportunity to shine. Yesenia Iglesias gives us a hilariously superficial Edwina one minute and a deeply felt Marianna the next. J Reese also runs the gamut of emotion as he goes from the tragically closeted Mr. Franklin to the frighteningly uninhibited Mr. Venus. Shontina Vernon's complex portrayal of the revolutionary Desi is riveting. And DeSean Halley takes on all three of his characters and gives them as individual a life as is possible and makes all three hilarious and real.

A remarkable production of a remarkable show that deserves to be seen. It's fun, touching, rocking and moving all at the same time. With my three letter rating system I would have to give this a YAY and I urge you to take the time to catch it. This show IS "the real".

"Passing Strange" from Sidecountry Theatre performs at the Bullitt Cabaret at ACT through June 29th. For tickets or information contact the ACT box office at 206-292-7676 or visit them online at


Tacoma Arts Live Presents THE THANKSGIVING PLAY By Larissa FastHorse Photo
Tacoma Arts Live Presents THE THANKSGIVING PLAY By Larissa FastHorse

A satirical comedy by Larissa FastHorse, 'The Thanksgiving Play' is coming to Tacoma Arts Live. Don't miss this hilarious exploration of cultural appropriation and political correctness.

Bailadores de Bronce Celebrates 50 Years in Seattle with Performances at the Moore Theatre Photo
Bailadores de Bronce Celebrates 50 Years in Seattle with Performances at the Moore Theatre

Seattle Theatre Group (STG) is celebrating Latinx/Hispanic Heritage month with the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Bailadores de Bronce, a local Mexican folklorico dance troupe, performing at the Moore Theatre. Learn more about the event here!

Bellingham Symphony Orchestra to Open 48th Season with Tango-Inspired Concerto Photo
Bellingham Symphony Orchestra to Open 48th Season with Tango-Inspired Concerto

On Sunday, October 1st, the Bellingham Symphony Orchestra will kick off its 48th Season with an opportunity to hear an instrument that is not commonly heard in the concert hall-the bandoneon.

Bellingham Symphony Orchestra Seeks Executive Director Photo
Bellingham Symphony Orchestra Seeks Executive Director

The Bellingham Symphony Orchestra is seeking an Executive Director to lead the organization and ensure its mission and goals are met. Apply now!

From This Author - Jay Irwin

         Born and raised in Seattle, WA, Jay has been a theater geek for years.  He attends as many shows as he can around the country and loves taking in new exciting wo... (read more about this author)


#repshow# in[i]# Clue
The 5th Avenue Theatre (7/09-7/21)
#repshow# in[i]# Horror Unexpected: Stories Grimm
Unexpected Productions Market Theater (10/01-10/29)
Tacoma Little Theatre (12/08-12/31)
#repshow# in[i]# Company
Paramount Theatre (7/23-7/28)
#repshow# in[i]# Poe Unexpected: Edgar Allan Poe Improvised
Unexpected Productions Market Theater (10/06-10/28)
#repshow# in[i]# Every Brilliant Thing
Harlequin Productions (10/13-10/28)
#repshow# in[i]# Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express
Wade James Theatre (9/15-10/08)CAST
#repshow# in[i]# The Book of Mormon (Non-Equity)
Paramount Theatre (1/09-1/14)
#repshow# in[i]# Citizen Hurricane
WICA (9/29-9/29)
#repshow# in[i]# RENT
Tacoma Little Theatre (3/08-3/31)

Recommended For You