'Passing Strange'

A first-rate multicamera transcript of a terrific show that should delight musical fans.

“Passing Strange” is Spike Lee’s record of the Broadway musical that ran six months last year. This first-rate multicamera transcript of a terrific show should delight musical fans (and many who think they aren’t) as a niche broadcast item. An all-black-cast tuner sans stars that didn’t fit into any conventional “black” (or even Broadway) musical idiom, “Passing” was too idiosyncratic for commercial success despite all critical raves.

Stew, squat book/lyric writer and composer (with Heidi Rodewald, his principal collaborator in cult band the Negro Problem), serves as onstage narrator for a freewheeling, seemingly autobiographical story. Youth (Daniel Breaker) escapes his middle-class Los Angeles roots and overattentive mother (Eisa Davis) in a quest for “the real” that takes him from hippie-ish Amsterdam to Berlin’s radical art-politik fringes. Lee adds two short 8mm sequences and a backstage interlude in an otherwise straightforward HD presentation as energetic as Annie Dorsen’s staging itself. While excess closeups are offputting at first — we don’t need to see every sweaty pore in a show designed for the big theatrical picture — the witty writing, winning perfs and often irresistibly catchy songs soon work their magic.

Passing Strange

Production

An Apple Core Holdings presentation of a Forty Acres and a Mule production. Produced by Spike Lee, Steve Klein. Executive producers, Ken Greif, Larry Horn, Klein, Will Kohane. Directed by Spike Lee. Book and lyrics, Stew; music, Stew, Heidi Rodewald.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Matthew Libatique; editor, Barry Brown. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Spectrum), Jan. 19, 2009. Running time: 136 MIN.

With

Stew, Daniel Breaker, de'Adre Aziza, Eisa Davis, Colman Domingo, Chad Goodridge, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Heidi Rodewald, Christian Cassan, Christian Gibbs, Jon Spurney.

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