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Texas Production of Rock Musical Passing Strange Defends the Artist's Struggle

The cast of Passing Strange
The cast of Passing Strange
Photo by Nicole Nesson
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Sex, drugs and politics are all part of the journey of self-discovery in Passing Strange, the Tony and Drama Desk award-winning musical that rocked Broadway's world.

Penned by Stew (L.A. musician Mark Stewart) and coming to Houston audiences courtesy of Obsidian
Theater and in association with SRO Productions, the story follows a young black man, Youth, as he leaves the City of Angels for Europe to follow in the footsteps of his heroes, Josephine Baker and James Baldwin. “It’s about his journey through self-discovery,” David Allen III says of his character, Youth, a
struggling musician from a middle-class background. “The show follows his timeline as he grows and matures trying to find his real self.”

A rock band performs live during this production, delivering the score by Stew and Heidi Rodewald, and David Allen III plays the young man searching for something real.

“The music is the driving force, the heartbeat of this production,” says Allen. “It’s beautifully woven through the tapestry of this story, and the music accelerates us through this poetic movement. The lyrics are amazing, but the music itself is another level – even now, it gives me chills when I’m onstage performing.”

Luckily for Allen and the Houston company, there’s a unique record of Passing Strange’s origins:
the 2009 documentary of the same name, directed by Spike Lee, which not only captures the show’s final night on Broadway but also offers interviews with the cast and creative departments in candid reflections.

“As an actor, having a good example to look to with Daniel Breaker [who earned a Tony nomination for Youth in 2008] is an inspiration,” Allen says. “But part of the fun certainly is learning to make your own discoveries as well. I think every actor filters their character through themselves, to an extent. Connecting moments from the show with personal experiences is a very special opportunity.”

As arts funding continues to be threatened, Passing Strange offers a perspective on the life of the artist in desperately short supply at the moment. Allen says the show also offers an interesting take on what it
means to be African-American as well. “I often joke with the cast, saying, ‘You don’t know me; I’m from the streets!’…and, of course, I’m not at all. But it’s funny how that part of the show resonates with me, because there is an assumption a lot of people make when they first meet you where they already
paint a picture of what they think you are. Just because of, I guess you could call it stereotypes, or media-driven assumptions of what being a black man in America looks like, but then when people meet me for the first time and hear me speak, there’s always that “Oh!” – and I do think that resonates.”

Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays from February 9 through
March 4 at Obsidian Theater, 3522 White Oak. For information, call 713-300-2358 or visit obsidiantheater.org.

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