Passing Strange (2009)

I’ll admit it, I didn’t really want to watch this. Filmed versions of live theatre productions just usually don’t work; there’s usually too much forced camera editing that over-directs what you’re supposed to see and feel (which is kind of the opposite of what the theatre experience is supposed to be).
I was forcing myself to watch this solely because it is a new Spike Lee film. I’m guessing part of his decision to film this was in knowing that people like me would take a chance on this with his name attached. I’m glad he did, because I loved it.

There’s no denying that his visual touches to the show are evidence of his talent to constructing as close to cinematic experience as you can get here, but it was a pre-existing stage musical after all. The show succeeds on its own merits (it did win a Tony Award) for being a great, autobiographical slice of history and personal experience from show writer-performers Stew and Heidi Rodewald. In a line, it’s a “rock musical” that reflects on a life of devotion to music and what that means to a man who is, as you are experiencing it, standing on stage feeling it with you and the characters he created (including an actor essentially playing him).

Starting out as a coming-of-age story and morphing into a larger commentary on identity politics, race, culture, and the meaningfulness of art in the grand scheme of things, it’s all set to music and acting by the amazing, original cast members who had all been performing an evolving incarnation of this show for two years up to documenting the last show here. If you’re not a musical-theatre lover, then you might not be able to get past that when watching this. Though, I did and I think this could be one of the best viewing experiences I’ve had all year.

“Life is a mistake only art can correct….
Just when it was starting to feel real.”


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