Over the weekend, I revisited a whole bunch of shows, including A Catered Affair, Passing Strange, Adding Machine, and Boeing-Boeing. See my Catered re-review below, and watch for my Boeing-Boeing and Adding Machine reappraisals later in the week.
As for Passing Strange, my initial enthusiasm for the show has been waning somewhat as I listen to the cast recording. (Read my first review here.) The music doesn't seem quite as compelling upon further investigation, and I find myself increasingly irritated by the over reliance on assonance (rhyming "sex" with "cigarettes") and poor scansion in the lyrics (e.g. "un-DER your wing," "far lon-GER than you," etc.).
But since I had plenty of available show slots during this trip, I figured I'd take the show in again to see how it would hold up. Plus, it was one of only five shows with matinées on July 4th, and none of the others really struck my fancy.
Even with the limited competition, Passing Strange still wasn't able to attract a full house. In fact, the show played to just 37% capacity last week. So the show's probably not long for this world; I wouldn't be surprised if we heard about a closing notice sometime soon, perhaps this week.
Which is probably for the best, because Stew and Heidi Rodewald look like they're ready to pack it in. Stew seemed to be phoning it in, although frankly he didn't really seem all that demonstrative the first time either. The crowd energy was low; there were far fewer downtown alternativo types in attendance, and not that many African Americans either. The audience seemed mainly to comprise middle-class vacationers who got their tickets at TKTS and weren't really sure what to expect. The couple next to me left at intermission.
But the supporting cast was really on, perhaps because they're trained actors, not rock musicians. Colman Domingo and Chad Goodridge were particularly sharp. The dynamic Daniel Breaker was out for this performance, but understudy Lawrence Stallings was very animated and capable.
Even so, Passing Strange remains a bold work, one that challenges Broadway conventions and demonstrates new ways of approaching the form. For those of you who won't be able to catch the show before its imminent demise, Playbill.com reports that director Spike Lee will be filming the show for a TV broadcast on a cable channel TBD. Lee will reportedly record three performances later this month, two of which will have a live audience, and then edit the three together.
For a while there, it looked as though Passing Strange might turn out to be another Hair: a safe way for the middle class to experience the counter culture all within the relative safety of Times Square and the familiar Belasco proscenium. Even though Passing Strange doesn't seem to be catching on, the show's score is more mainstream than those of most Broadway shows. Ever since Hair debuted, people have been talking about how Broadway needed to stay relevant by reflecting changing tastes in music. Forty years later, it's finally starting to occur in earnest.