Stew’s Rock Musical “Passing Strange” Comes to UNCSA March 24-April 2

UNCSA’s Schools of Drama and Design and Production will present the groundbreaking rock musical “Passing Strange,” by singer-songwriter and performance artist Stew, directed by faculty member Christopher Burris guest, with choreography by faculty member Krisha Marcano and musical direction by Dionne McClain-Freeney, March 24-April 2.


Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. March 24-26 and March 31-April 2, and 2 p.m. March 27 at the Catawba Theater at Alex Ewing Performance Place, 1533 S. Main St., Winston-Salem. Tickets are $25 regular and $20 for students with valid ID online or by calling 336-721-1945. The theater will be open at full capacity and the public will be required to wear masks.

Besides “The Color Purple”, “Passing Strange” is one of the few Broadway musicals to have captured the African-American experience written by an African-American artist. Stew wrote the lyrics and the book, with orchestrations by Heidi Rodewald and Stew, in collaboration with director Annie Dorsen.

Loaded with moving lyrics and brimming with passion, “Passing Strange” takes a journey through the boundaries of place, identity and theatrical conventions: part musical theatre, part rock concert and part performance art. It was considered such an important part of the African-American musical canon that filmmaker Spike Lee made a permanent record of the Broadway production by filming the final three performances at the Belasco Theater.

With its Broadway premiere in 2008, “Passing Strange” was nominated for seven Tony Awards, winning one for Best Book as well as three Drama Desk Awards.

We are in a golden age of American playwriting with writers… writing for members of the global mainstream and the LGBTQIA+ community, but there is still little representation of these communities in American musical theater . By providing the opportunities available in “Passing Strange”, we’re trying to rectify that in a small way.

Dean of Theater Scott Zigler

As the character of Youth forges a path to the “real” through drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll, he travels from black and middle-class America to Amsterdam, Berlin and beyond in a journey towards personal and artistic authenticity. The youngster finds he can express himself more freely in a Europe less entangled in racism than at home in America.

The production reflects the School of Drama’s ongoing efforts to expand programming to include more works created by communities historically underrepresented in the entertainment industry.

“At UNCSA, we have such a diverse student body, and we are committed to finding stories that reflect the lived experience of these students,” said Scott Zigler, dean of the School of Drama. “We are in a golden age of American playwriting with writers like Lynn Nottage, Jeremy O. Harris and Young Jean Lee writing for members of the global mainstream and the LGBTQIA+ community, but there is still little of representation of these communities in American musical theater. By providing the opportunities available in “Passing Strange”, we are trying to rectify that in a small way.”

Zigler said UNCSA students are passionate about having the opportunity to play both characters that reflect their lived experiences and ones that stretch and challenge their imaginations as actors.

Fourth-year drama student Murphy Lorenzo Applin Jr. will play the Narrator in “Passing Strange.”

Fourth-year student Murphy Lorenzo Applin Jr., who plays the Narrator, a man in his 40s, can do both in this show – play on his lived experience as a young African-American artist and expand into the world of an older man.

“I’m glad we can have a show where almost every performer in the room is black,” Applin said. “We are not only black people, but we are also a community.

“This is the first black show I’ve been on that I don’t have to dig into trauma. Written by an American who moved to Europe where he was able to embrace his otherness, it’s not than a play; it’s a life story.

Applin said director Christopher Burris gave him the freedom to express himself in character.

“I did my best not to play Stew. His experience is his experience. So I brought as much of myself as possible to this role,” Applin said. to be able to be interpreted in many ways. There are no expectations, and it’s really fun too.

Burris is a visiting faculty member with a full resume as a professional actor in theatre, film, television, and voiceover. He has taught and conducted at Pace University, New York University, and the University of California, San Diego. He and McClain-Freeney collaborated off-Broadway and for the Polyphone Festival at the University of the Arts (UArts) in Philadelphia.

“College is the perfect time for students to engage in this groundbreaking and inspiring musical,” Burris said. “I am honored and eager to share the story with the students of UNCSA. It is an explosively talented cast of future superstars and ‘Passing Strange’ will be a production Winston-Salem will remember. so early.

Deandre Sevon

Fourth-year student Deandre Sevon will play Youth in “Passing Strange.”

Another fourth-year student, Deandre Sevon, plays Youth. “The narrator tells the story, and I’m the one who walks through it,” he said. “It’s really crazy to live this experience. It’s really communal, like a group effort. I’m really having fun, and everyone looks amazing.

“I feel like I’m getting ready for Broadway.”

Sevon and Applin met when they were both freshmen.

“Our school’s BIPOC artist community is really strong, and I’m starting to work with some of my friends who I’ve been dying to work with for years,” Sevon said. “When Murphy and I met four years ago, we used to sing and improvise together. ‘Passing Strange’ is like a full-loop moment for us.

One of his favorite moments comes near the end of the show: “One of the characters says to the narrator, ‘The character in your story is looking for something that can only be found in art,’ and that resonates with me. Everytime. “

Maleek Slade

Fourth-year student Maleek Slade will play Franklin, Mr. Venus and Joop in “Passing Strange.”

Rounding out the cast, Seth McLaughlin portrays Reverend Jones, Terry, Christopher and Hugo; Kennedy Jackson as Marianna, Edwina and Sudabey; Bailey James as mother; Maleek Slade as Franklin, Mr. Venus, and Joop; Aisha Sougou as Kelso, Desi, Sherry and Renata; and Jasmine Hurt as Heidi.

From the School of Design and Production, Gisela Estrada is set designer, Cassandra Sisson is costume designer, Nathaniel Jones is wig and makeup designer, Wheeler Moon is lighting designer, Samuel Hayes is sound designer, Ryan Lasich is technical director, Becky Hicks is Prop Director, Katie Pulling is Stage Manager, Kaci Kidder is Automation Engineer, Lauren Kean is Production Manager, Joel Magill is Production Manager and Amanda Wingo is Production Manager.

Director’s Note: Recommended for mature audiences.

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