At first glance “Passing Strange” is a story of a young black man coming of age in the troubled rocky decade following the ‘60’s. Everything changed but no one was quite sure what our culture had become or how we were placed within that culture. Once seen and absorbed is clearly “Passing Strange” is dynamically a universal story of a young person with strong creative ideals coming to terms with life’s limitations upon art and life’s inspiration to art. Everyone regardless of sex, creed or color goes through a version of this transition and everyone has their own hindrances, background and assets to overcome and overwhelm.
For the true artist, surviving the transition and remaining true to one’s art form is the challenge. W. Jerome Stevenson is a true artist. The narrator of “Passing Strange” is a survivor. The show also stars Gerrin Mitchell as the true artist in the making. It takes an artist to make an artist. Mitchell is a consummate artist.
DeLanie Brewer as the mother has the outstanding ability and grace needed to express her emotions in dialogue and song. Matthew Alvin Brown, Tyrone Stanley, Jennifer Teel and Rhianna Mack make the story come alive for the audience with enthusiasm, charm and an abundance of talent. Band members Stefani Fortney, Elyse Angelo, Louise Goldberg and Jason Hunt provide far more than great music for “Passing Strange”. This band has perfect interaction with the characters as well.
The costumes of Michael James are right on target for this show and the lighting and scenic design are wonderfully unobtrusive. Scenic Designer is James A. Hughes. Sound incorporates the unique talents of Stevenson and Angelo. This choice gives band and cast members defined interaction. Band member Goldberg, as Musical Director brings warmth, subtlety and power to ‘rock on’ as she leads cast, band and crew with a blend of strength and poignancy.
Stevenson has been the Pollard’s Artistic Director for some time. His talent as a director has always shaped wonderful productions and now, in “Passing Strange” he exhibits his star quality as actor and musician. He also shows us the unusual capacity many directors do not have: the ability to receive direction as well as give it. The mark of Director Timothy Stewart is imprinted on the production creating the universality and diversity that highlights the show. Shaded by the natural choreography of Christopher Castleberry, Stewart has a masterpiece on his hands.
The book, “Passing Strange” is by Stew and the Music by Stew and Heidi Rodewald is autobiographical in nature. Stevenson and Mitchell embody the individualism of Stew with great power and vision. “Passing Strange” does contain some language and adult situations. It is, however, a show for everyone because a little Theatre/Shock/Reality has a lot of soul.
“Passing Strange” can be seen at the Pollard Theatre through June 26, 2011. Located at 111 W. Harrison in downtown Guthrie or everywhere in cyberspace at wwwthepollard.org. The box office is open from 10:00am to 5:00pm Tuesday through Saturday and the number is 405.282.2800.