Mixed Blood‘s production of “Passing Strange” is both a play and a rock show, as it traces a young musician’s journey of self-discovery while traveling in Europe.
Punk and electronica combine with gospel and funk as his own musical history is interwoven with what he finds in Amsterdam and Berlin.
Critics find the show to be a “wry and clever” “seeker’s story” filled with “lovely stuff.” What’s your review?
“Passing Strange” is a pastiche of musical styles (from rock to punk and jazz to blues), keen-eyed observation and humor that is wry and clever but steeped in self-awareness and self-deprecation. In its original iterations… the semi-autobiographical show was narrated by its creator, who goes by the single-name moniker of Stew. In the Mixed Blood production, Anthony Manough steps into Stew’s shoes, observing his younger self (played by Nathan Barlow) stumble through the crucible of growing up: church choirs and punk bands; rebelling against his mother and chafing against the familiarities of his hometown; experimenting with art and sex in Amsterdam and Berlin.
In all of it, the young man begins to discover, almost like an outsider, what it means to be an American, an artist and a black man. He alternately uses and sheds a legacy of pain and music, spirituality and identity as he begins to find himself. The cost, however, is high, as it takes him away from his mother. [It’s] a seeker’s story that’s told with unbridled energy and is well worth hearing again.
The show gleefully avoids the usual musical-theater touchstones. There are no great love songs sung between the characters. Instead, the tunes are about taking drugs, having sex, and listening to and making rock ‘n’ roll. Even with a character that is intentionally a blank slate for much of the show, Barlow drags us into his performance through his talent and sheer force of will. His energy seems to be inexhaustible, even while rushing from one end of the stage to the other.
The show’s creators… develop the Youth’s journey with thrilling passion. The Youth’s fixation with “the real” (with family, with artistic honesty, with truth) is more than an excuse to play some tasty music (though this certainly happens). The twists and turns of the Youth’s journey turns the play into “real” art. “If I were any more real, I’d be fictional.” “Life is a mistake that only Art can correct.” Lovely stuff.