06 April 2008

Now With Only a Mild Case of Too-Many-Choruses-itis

In the realm of things I shouldn't probably put on the internet: When I saw Passing Strange at the Public last year, it was a hot mess. Hot, because it was an energetic, awesomely-designed production, because Stew and his music (and lyrics!) are great, because most of the cast was wonderful. A mess because... it was one - meandering and draggy, songs that went on for ages, a story without momentum and in dire need of it. There were great moments, and then years spent within repeating choruses. Lots of people loved it, though, including people with $$, and it opened on Broadway a few weeks ago.

Fast forward to today and hot damn. The Passing Strange of Broadway is no hot mess, unless this is the Christian Soriano usage that (I think) just means hot. I don't know what happened. (Other than wise cutting and retooling and intense focusing of the themes and protagonist's urgent need.) People loved the off-Broadway production so much that I wasn't sure anything was being changed for Broadway. I was very skeptical of the move. I have been completely won over.

Surprisingly, the Broadway space is even better for the show than the three-quarter thrust at the Public. You'd think that taking an edgy, downtown show and putting it on a big proscenium stage would be all square peg, round hole, but it's great. David Korins' and Kevin Adams' wall of lights is gorgeous and so well-used. And the choreography! And staging! It's a really fantastic production.

The people on stage are also kick-ass. Co-composer and word-writer and narrator Stew writes beautiful, kick-ass songs with the kind of tight lyrics that I adore, and he's a fantastic performer. The rest of the cast, too, especially our hero Daniel Breaker, playful and commanding and funny and with such a voice on him! He makes me kvell. If this boy doesn't get a Tony nomination, it's a shonda!

[Two random thoughts: I still don't love the weirdly effeminate gayness of every male ensemble character (note: character, not actor) in the first act; and I wish I could push my glasses up on my forehead like Stew. Philip Goodwin did that in Grace, too. Is it just a guy thing? My dainty ladylike forehead does not comply.]

Although the lights are fancier and I think the choreography might have been ratcheted up, what's really changed is the script. For all I talk, live, breathe script development, I engaged with this play, the first time around, purely as an audience member. I wasn't looking for potential, just the product that I was paying to see. (Oh, days of a Public Theater subscription, before the price jumped $50.) I didn't come out with a list of notes or questions or possible changes, just my (minority, by the audience reaction) sense that it didn't work. But some very keen artists have been working on this, and I'm so glad I got to witness and enjoy the product of their work. I'm glad I got to see something that (I hope and believe) is closer to the ideal form that Stew and co-composer Heidi Rodewald and co-creator and director Annie Dorsen have all been working to realize. I don't know how anyone involved felt about the off-Broadway production, whether it was all Yeah, totally! or Okay, this is something, and we're on our way there, but I'm glad that the people behind it saw the goodness and richness and awesome material. And I'm glad that some people, maybe the same ones, maybe someone else, and I'm not excluding Stew and Heidi, asked the right questions or made the decisions, the cuts and revisions, that ended up with what I saw on Broadway. It was pretty fucking awesome.

1 comment:

Moxie said...

I've seen it four times, twice off, twice on Broadway. I loved it both places, for different reasons. I miss the intimacy of the off-bway production, but I love how energized the newer bigger version is. I'd see it again!