It’s no surprise to discover the musical Passing Strange is a semi-fictionalised account of singer, song writer and author Mark ‘Stew’ Stewart’s real-life story.
The story line has a definite personal feel as we follow a young man trying to discover his identity and place in the world.
Youth, is a young African American who comes from a middle-class home in Los Angeles. His mother clearly loves him and his life is comfortable but this isn’t enough. He is searching for more.
His `search’ includes a stint with his local church choir and his first experience with drugs and rock n roll. He then moves on to the music and club scenes in Amsterdam and Berlin.
Despite making new friends, falling in love and working on his music he never really seems content always looking for something more.
A tragedy back home in Los Angeles brings some perspective to his search.
Youth’s story is told mostly through songs and some dialogue presented by a narrator and the actors. There’s plenty of interaction between the narrator, the cast and the four-piece band who all appear together on stage.
This interaction and the lighting often give Passing Strange more of a rock concert feel than a musical but the work of the actors ensures it’s definitely a theatrical performance.
While the narrator is usually played by Augustin Tchantcho, the performance we attended featured Guilluame Gentil who seemed very comfortable in the pivotal role of telling Youth’s story, often in a light-hearted manner.
Grant Young is equally as comfortable and believable as Youth, perfectly illustrating his character’s range of emotions including vulnerability, confusion and over-confidence.
Sasha Hennequin is excellent as Youth’s mother while the ensemble cast of Zahrah Andrews, Tier Ataing, Theo Williams and Asha Khamis (replacing Gabriella Van Wyk in our performance) perfectly illustrate their musical and acting talents playing numerous roles with great aplomb.
While the award winning Passing Strange first premiered in America in 2006 before premiering on Broadway in 2008, its message is as relevant today as it was then.
Interestingly the show has never been staged before in Australia until this production from the Antipodes Theatre Company who realised the show fitted perfectly into its remit of producing never-before-seen works that provide audiences with an opportunity to step into someone else’s shoes.
In this case Youth’s ‘shoes’, or more specifically his search for purpose and meaning in life and the impact on others , is food for thought. Given the colourful, fun and entertaining feel of the show thanks to the music, dialogue and performances of the actors and the band, this reflection isn’t forced on the audience but is certainly an underlying theme.
*Photo credit: Angel Leggas
- Melbourne, musical, review
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