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Theatre / Passing Strange

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"'Today my edges dull together
Yeah, that's it!
And there's no point left to dream.
I want to scream!
And I can't find my way home!'"
- Stoned.

"'I let my pain FUCK my EGO
- Youth brands himself the "twentieth century incarnate."

Passing Strange is a musical by Stew and Heidi Rodewald (of the band "The Negro Problem") that premiered on Broadway in 2008. It was directed by (and "created in collaboration with") Annie Dorsen, and was nominated for several Tony Awards, winning for Best Book.

It follows a discontented, middle-class black teenager (referred to only as "Youth"), as he leaves his home and his mom in Los Angeles to find artistic freedom and the ever-elusive idea called "The Real" in Europe, first in Amsterdam, and then in Berlin. The story is loosely based off of Stew's own experiences as a young man. The show is performed by seven actors and an on-stage band, with no set. It is often said to be a combination of a standard musical and a rock concert, being mostly-sung through and somewhat interactive on the part of the Narrator.

Its final few performances were recorded by Spike Lee (one of the show's biggest fans) and edited into a "concert movie"-style film version, which is currently playing at the IFC theatre in New York City, and is available On Demand, and on DVD.

Provides Examples Of:

  • "Angry Black Man" Stereotype - Subverted and played with all day long. The Youth is an "Angry Black Man" Stereotype, but he's angry at the upper black middle class society that has "oppressed" him. (He's been oppressed but not to the extreme that he imagines.) He also masquerades as an "Angry Black Man" Stereotype instead of who he truly is - an artistic Black and Nerdy, to stay at Nowhaus, a halfway house of socially conscious artists who think he's just an "American Pop Song Maker".
  • Angry Mob Song - "May Day"
  • As Himself - Co-writer Stew plays The Narrator, named... Stew.
  • Black and Nerdy - Youth. Also his high school bandmates Terri and Sherri.
  • But Not Too Black - Partially inverted in-show; Edwina wants Youth to blacken up a bit, but not so much that he'll "become unhireable."
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander - A lot of the supporting cast, most of all Nowhaus members Mr. Venus and Sudabey:
    • Sudabey: "My porno films feature fully-clothed men making business deals."
    • Mr. Franklin (pulls scarf over head and sings soprano): Vissi d'arte. Hello - Maria Callas speaking. Yes it's me, darlings, with my funny nose, skinny legs and all and I have nothing to hide. If I were anymore real, child, I'd be fictional!
  • Cluster F-Bomb - "What the fuck is going on? / What the fuck is going wrong?"
  • Deadpan Snarker - The Narrator
  • Europeans Are Kinky - The youth finds his way to Amsterdam and discovers the promiscuous hook-up culture in the song "We Just Had Sex," where he experiments with single partners, multiple partners, female partners, and male partners. Being the American in the situation, he's the only one who sees anything unusual about this.
  • First Law of Tragicomedies
  • Grass Is Greener- The Youth and Europe.
  • Hurricane of Puns - The lyrics in Passing Strange have a ton of puns, double entendres, and and euphemisms.
    Stew: Sunday morning's steamy stained-glass window vision...
    Edwina: I am the way!
    Stew: The wriggling bait on God's fishing hook.
    Edwina: I am the truth...
    Stew: She was the Master's bait,
    Edwina: ...and the light
    Stew: A Prayboy bunny, Lord.
    Edwina: Airbrushed by the Almighty!
    • There is even a visual pun during the song "We Just Had Sex" — somewhere in the middle the stage falls silent and the band falls still, save for The Narrator, who is stroking the neck of his guitar rather...rhythmically.
  • I Need to Go Iron My Dog - Most of the Nowhaus crew has the good sense to leave during an argument between the Youth and Desi... except Hugo, Desi's ex.
    Mr. Venus: (taps Sudabey and begins to leave) Come, Hugo, come view my new blue leather mini-skirt.
    Hugo: Why should I want to see your stupid -
  • Ironic Echo "Right when it was starting to feel real" pops up first when Youth laments in "Stoned", but is repeated to mean other things later on.
    • Also "Welcome to Amsterdam" is sung a LOT in "Amsterdam" and trilled ironically when Youth is singing "Stoned", about the side effects of the drugs and odd love Marianna provides.
    • May fall under Alternative Character Interpretation, but, as mentioned below in Meaningful Echo, "It's alright" and "Is it alright?" pop up quite a bit meaning different things. In the beginning, it's an actual affirmation. But towards the end, Stew's asking the "Artistic" version of The Mother whether it is, in fact, alright (meaning the way he's lived his life). She does confirm that it's alright, however her face seems to imply that she doesn't believe it. Especially ironic considering that this version of the Mother is basically an in-universe fictional version of the earlier character, both created by Stew/The Youth. Meaning that not only is it kind of a ruse to fool himself into accepting his choices and being okay with them, but it's a ruse that he knows he doesn't believe. Also makes the ending downright Downer.
  • It's All About Me: Youth's main problem throughout the play, to the point where he distances himself from everyone who cared about him to focus on his pursuit of the "Real".
  • Lemony Narrator - The Narrator, who is actually the grown-up version of the Youth, and who constantly breaks the Fourth Wall, and the imaginary wall between him and the cast
  • Literary Allusion Title - "She swore, in faith, 'twas strange, 'twas '''passing strange'''"
  • Meaningful Echo -The song "It's Alright" First said by Mr. Franklin trying to convince the Youth that he is okay after he confessed that he is basically a coward. Sung again in Amsterdam when the Youth is openly accepted without question into his "new family". Youth begs his mother to answer the question "Is it alright?" when she rings on the Christmas Eve before she dies right near the end of the show. All she can reply with is "I love you." Finally sung by the "artistic" version of the Youth's late mother, the version of her brought back to life by song. Stew, the grown-up Youth (as we have probably figured by now) repeatedly asks her "Is it alright?" to which she sings "Yes, it's alright" and leaves him.
    • At one point the youth mixes up the German words liebe and lieder, accidentally telling Desi "I song you." Later, the two of them fight and Desi yells, "I don't want to be a song. I want to be loved. And you don't know the difference."
  • Metaphorgotten - "...Or if they mimic the phallo-centric narrative of 'verse, chorus, verse, chorus, climax, fade out, smoke a cigarette, turn over, snore all night and never call me again—'"
    • "You know, absence really does make ze heart grow into a state of mind which somehow transforms what you once could not stand about your family into a somehow, quaint pleasure-giving construct."
  • My Beloved Smother - Subverted; this is how Youth (unfairly) views his mother, until its too late.
  • No Fourth Wall - Not for the Narrator anyway. This also fits in with the show being part rock concert, part musical.
    Youth: Well, let me ask you this Mr. Know-It-All, do you know what it's like to hustle for dimes on the mean streets of South Central?
    Stew: Nobody in this play knows what it's like to hustle for dimes on the mean streets of South Central.
    • The Nowhaus group also indulges in fourth wall breaking, particularly when they critique Marianna's song (titled Keys) from earlier in the show. Who starts the argument? Sudabey - who in the first act is actually Marianna!
      • It could be taken that the youth has, in-universe, written that song or even that part of the show already, since the conversation is really about The Youth's merits as a writer and whether it awards him a place in the house. That is, until Desi gives us this gem:
    Desi: *mocking the other actress* "My keys, my keys! My name's De'Andre (Aziza, Marianna/Sudabey's actress), and I sang Keys in the first act!" It's the same fucking actress, everybody knows her! She's pretending she doesn't sing that song!
  • No Name Given - Youth and his Mom. The Narrator actually subverts/plays with this in "Prologue: We Might Play All Night" by saying his name is Stew.
  • Oktoberfest: Youth visits Berlin, and encounters the avant-garde nihilist brand of Germans. And then it turns out they all go home to the bucolic village version for Christmas.
  • Rage Against the Mentor - Youth does this to his choir master Franklin, saying that he and his friends are going to live the life Franklin merely talks about living.
  • Rock-Star Song - "Passing Phase"
  • Shout-Out - The lyric "The burning street where she lives", a direct parody of "On the Street Where You Live" from My Fair Lady.
  • Soul Brotha - Youth tries to pass himself off as one to Nowhaus.
    • Lampshaded with the song he and his friends (as amateur punk rock band "The Scary-o-types") sing, called "Sole Brother".
  • Stylistic Suck - Arguable as to how much it actually sucks, but a few bits are undoubtedly meant to be ridiculous, over-the-top, and Narmy
    • "What's inside is just a lie! W-w-w-what's inside is just a lie!" "Culture is cosmetic, culture is cosmetic, culture is cosmetic..."
    • "Hit the WALL, free at LAST. Hit the WALL, free at LAST."
    • Pretty much the whole of 'Identity'.
    "'Child, what's become of you, haven't you got any sense?
    Child, what's become of you, haven't you got any sense?
    Child, what's become of you, haven't you got any sense?
    Nein my momma. Nein my momma. Nein my momma.
    Nein my momma. Nein my momma Nein momma Nein mommamomma ma ma ma ma!'"
  • The Something Song - "Mom Song"
  • Token Minority - Averted and subverted - the entire acting cast is African American or Mixed Race, but in Amsterdam and Berlin are playing European or Caucasian characters which you don't realize until the Youth uses the fact that he is black to stay in Nowhaus. He then basically becomes the Token Minority in a all-black cast.
  • True Art Is Angsty: The very reason the Youth continues on his journey through Europe after arriving in Amsterdam. He's so content in "Paradise" that he can't write songs because he has nothing to complain about.
  • What Is Going On?? - Sung literally by the Youth as he enters the Mayday riot of Berlin. Also sung by Stew at the beginning of the play.
    Stew: We're gonna do a little play since you came for that. A play where this band tells you where it's at. So just follow along, just follow along, just follow along ! ...or if you're ever not sure what we're all about - just ask the song, just ask the song, just ask the song!