Sunday December 17th 2017

“Passing Strange”

Somewhat recommended  It seems as if “rock musicals” are IN! That is what the young people like and if this is the case, and they can afford the tickets, we will probably see more of them on our stages. Bailiwick Chicago is now presenting the Midwest Premiere of the Tony Award winning Rock/Soul musical “Passing Strange on the main stage of the Chicago Center For The Performing Arts, the cozy theater located at 777 N. Green Street ( just west of Halsted at Chicago Avenue). This is a simple little theater, very intimate with a small stage and no real room for a set and an orchestra/band, but Bailiwick does make most of it work by using two upper level areas. “Passing Strange” is a story about a young Black man living in Los Angeles who is unhappy with the life he leads. While there doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with his life; he lives with his mother, a warm church- going woman  ( a strong performance by LaNisa Renee Frederick) who only wants her little boy to have the happiest of lives. Her son, however ( deftly handled by Steven Perkins), is an “artist”, a song-writer who feels that what he has in L.A. is not what he wants and so he sets off to Amsterdam and Berlin to find his music, his voice and a life that has no restrictions. This takes place in the 1980’s so much has changed over the years.

The book and  lyrics are written by STEW ( who won a Tony for the book) and the music was written by STEW along with Heidi Rodewald. The production is filled with music,  22 songs in total and while the stage was filled with the sounds befitting the theme and the times, very little of the score is memorable in any way. I will say that the on stage band ( under the direction of James Morehead) was expertly handled. One of the noticeable surprises for me- a play about “soul” and Rock” with all the characters being African American had an all White band bringing this music to life! Kind of a shock, isn’t it?

Directed by Lili-Anne Brown who is very limited by the space itself, she keeps the flow of this overly long piece moving , although shaving a half hour off this two plus hour show would make some sense as after awhile it begins to get repetitious. Our Narrator, who leads us through the story, mostly in song is played by Jayson “JC” Brooks, who has an elegant voice and stage presence and gives us a glimpse at just how versatile he is as an actor in this role. The other 4 cast members, who take on a myriad of roles are: The adorable  Whitney White, The lovely Sharriese Hamilton, the very funny Aaron Holland and the extraordinary Osiris Khepera- the roles they play are varied and special to the story line and proof that there are no small parts. Bailiwick was given permission to make some adjustments to STEW’s book so that the feel of the Bailiwick company would be seen on stage.

Bailiwick’s mission statement says that they will strive to tell stories that stimulate their audiences and celebrate their diverse community. I will say that “Passing Strange” does accomplish most of this, in this “coming-of-age” story that allows a young man to test his talents, learn more about his culture, his creativity and even his sexuality and his relationships with his new friends, his old memories and his Mother. After he has drifted apart from his past, and the holidays are approaching, he has made up his mind that he will never see his mother again. Then he finds that all the others in his commune/home are going home for the holidays leaving him alone, allowing him to open his mind. I found this production loaded with talent but did not find the material up to what these actors deserve!

You can see for yourself at the Chicago Center for The Performing Ats through May 29th with performances as follows:

Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. There will also be 2 p.m. matinees on Saturdays May 21st and 28th in addition to the evening shows.

Tickets are $25 general admission and $35 reserved seating. Student “RUSH” tickets are $15 ( subject to availability)

To order your tickets call 312-733-6000 or visit www.bailiwick.com

Parking is not that easy- street parking on Chicago Avenue is metered and  white these rae some street spots, “Peter Pan” will be  opening just east of Halsted on Chicago next week, so it will be just a little busy in the area and the CTA may just be your best bet.

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