I just woke up from a little impromptu nap, and I check my e-mail, and I’ve got this message from my buddy and sometimes semi-idol Eisa Davis (links added by me):
thanks for taking this ride with us. if you haven’t caught it, hope you can get here before we close.
as Stew says in the show: is it alright?
and as I say back: yes, it’s alright.
This is sad, but not unpredictable news. Passing Strange never found its audience, struggling with a title and some marketing materials that didn’t really represent the show perfectly or highlight its strengths. It was also a tough sell on Broadway, a black rock musical that didn’t have an obvious hook for the suburban moms and tourists who make up your major ticket-purchasing block on the Rialto (look at me, getting my Variety on). The Tony Awards seemed to be the show’s big chance, but timing was a problem there, as In The Heights became sort of destined for Best Musical, and Lin-Manuel’s performance in that show may have split the Best Featured Actor vote with Stew (just a theory), leaving that award to Paulo Szot, not that I think anything other than Best Musical would have made a huge difference anyway. The fact that this show made it from Joe’s Pub to the Public to Broadway, and lasted as long as it did (185 performances including previews) qualifies as a huge success in my mind, even with the certain financial hit the producers have taken.
I was describing the show in an e-mail just now, and I said it was the most interesting “hip” young black show since Noise/Funk, and I was struck by the comparison–both were shows that came out of The Public, yeah, both were somewhat overshadowed and eclipsed by other shows that they were linked with in articles about the new cultural zeitgeist of their given time period (Heights now, Rent, of course, then), and both, from some kind of objective standard at least, were better shows then their counterparts. I say “objective standard” because Rent and Heights are two shows with great personal value to me, although I think both are kind of messy and not as consistently strong as the Public shows. The other thing with that is that both Strange and Noise/Funk are untraditional musicals at heart, turning away from what a regular Broadway show tends to do, and ultimately, that’s the commercial downfall of these pieces. But these aren’t commercial shows–just shows that happened to have some success commercially (and certainly did better critically than commercially, especially Strange).
Screenwriter William Goldman has said that he is amazed that a good movie ever gets made in the Hollywood system, because there is so much that could go wrong at any given moment. I tend to think the same thing about great Broadway shows–the odds are against a production going really well, against a show capturing some kind of great moment or aesthetic or thought and making it all the way to the Great White Way with its integrity and heart still attached. There are just too many places where it could go wrong. Passing Strange got almost everything right; the downfall, sadly, was in the most critical area for keeping the show running: the audience.
But still, I celebrate this show, this cast, this creative team, this man named Stew. If you have a chance, go see this show this week. (If you want to buy your favorite blogger a ticket to the Spike Lee shows or even the closing, I wouldn’t turn them down.) You’ll have to film version of this to remember it by, but you’re going to want to have the actual memory too.