Friday, June 27, 2014

Hurry, before "Passing Strange" passes away

Andrew Creech as Youth (photo Martin Christoffel)

Passing Strange
Starring LeRoy Bell, Andrew Creech
Through 6/29/14

You still have this weekend to catch the entertaining and groovy musical, Passing Strange. Written as an autobiography and originally starring Stew, the Seattle version of a black man’s journey to manhood stars local celebrity and amiable rocker, LeRoy Bell.

Though it’s a story about rock and roll, most of the musical composition don’t get that loud (no earplugs needed). Bell tells the story through narration about his youth (Youth is played by Andrew Creech) in a boring lower middle class Los Angeles neighborhood straining to be someone unique. Through minimal staging, dance, and storytelling techniques, a quartet of talented actors (DeSean Halley, Yesenia Iglesias, J Reese, Shontina Vernon) morph from teenage church friends to European footloose, drug-inspired young adults, as Youth tries to find himself and “the real.”

The title comes from the young people talking about “passing” for church-going, well-behaving, choir-attending youth while hiding their apostasy from their families. Youth rejects most of the teachings of his mother (Marlette Buchanan), and tries to discover how to make meaningful music. It isn’t until, not surprisingly, her death, that he finally begins to realize that “the real” has a lot to do with surrendering to love.

Though some of the song lyrics veer toward a bit of preciousness (the story is not by any means new), the songs are accessible and the performers are terrific companions for the evening. Though there was some trepidation, apparently, about not having Stew perform his own piece, I think it’s easy to allow Bell to take his place.

Bell, while an engaging performer, turns out not to be the biggest focus. Creech makes the role of Youth his own and demands most of the attention. His growth from a thirteen year old boy to a questing man is fun to watch.

Musicians Jose Gonzales (keyboard), Matt Jorgensen (drums), Kathy Moore (guitar), Nate Omdal (bass) make joyful noise and sometimes even chime into the narrative. There is a lot of talent on stage to give you this story. Best get yourself to ACT, you here?