at Berekley Repertory Theatre
The best theater experiences happen when you go in not knowing what to expect, and then the show blows you away. If you agree, then stop reading right now and buy tickets to Passing Strange before it heads to New York. If you need more convincing--or just love your Stage Fog--read on. Now, we really can't call this a review, because we went to a preview, and a first preview at that. The only thing we knew about the show was something about an "African American man's musical search for authenticity." Most musicals in this vein are about as authentic as acrylic nails. (Anyone see the last touring production of Rent?) But Passing Strange made this cynical, 10-year local theater veteran a believer. Penned and narrated by the charismatic Stew, the musical features his band and a group of superb actors. Youth--the main character--escapes the confines of his catty Baptist church in plastic LA for a tour of Amsterdam and Berlin, meeting potheads and performance artists who force him to confront his own self-delusions. Sounds rather typical, but Stew infuses this story with gut-punching songs, some of which don't let the audience off easy like those chirpy Broadway tunes do. Put simply, Passing Strange is authentic to itself. If more new musicals looked like this, we might yet see a revitalization of Broadway.
Playing through December 3
Adam Pascal Live at Post Street Theatre
Ah, Adam, you're not sore about that little dig we made at Rent, are you? We meant the touring production, not the original. (Well, we didn't see the original, nor did we see the movie, but we're sure you were great in them.) And you're not just some musical theater geek, but write modern rock songs, too? (Modern rock?) Baby, you are so gonna steal this show.
Playing October 27 & 28
Chicago at the Orpheum Theatre
As far as we're concerned, the latest film version of the musical practically trumps all revivals. But, the only reason we’re mentioning this is because it stars Huey Lewis in the role of Billy Flynn. We'll give you a moment to let this sink in. Huey Lewis. Wait, it gets better. John O'Hurley also performs two performances only (run kids, get tickets now). Yes, as in Family Feud. What the short press release fails to mention is his other notable TV appearances in, wait for it, Dancing with the Stars. And the Ms. America Pageant. OK, OK, he was in several Seinfeld episodes. But what a star lineup! Really, the reviews can go either way. Place your bets now.
Playing October 24 through November 5
Hamlet: Blood in the Brain at Intersection for the Arts
OK, seriously. Settle down now, because this show is not to be missed. Now, the last thing we expect from Campo Santo is Shakespeare. So, this isn't your typical Shakespeare. The company has hooked up with California Shakespeare Theater (artistic director Jonathan Moscone directs) and playwright Naomi Iizuka to reimagine the Bard's most famous play in the context of 1980s Oakland, complete with the drugs and the poverty. Remember, like with Stew, authenticity is key. Iizuka and company ran numerous workshops for about three years with the community's residents to create the story of a young man who confronts neighborhood violence and his own familial obligations. Now, this isn't simply Hamlet plopped down in a modern time period, but a new play that merges traditional theater with real vernacular and marginalized genres. In other words, it looks more like a gritty Campo Santo play than a stuffy Shakespeare piece.
Playing October 26 through November 20
Photo of Stew in Passing Strange taken by Kevin Berne.