Theater review: Short North Stage’s ‘Passing Strange’ is a must-see

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From the May 2, 2013 edition

The musical “Passing Strange” passes from Los Angeles to Amsterdam to Berlin and from the protagonist’s childhood to his maturity. But it also recounts how this middle-class African-American guy passes himself off to his European friends as a kid from South Central’s mean streets.

Meticulously directed by Mark Clayton Southers, Short North Stage’s production of “Passing Strange” is one of surpassing wonder, poetic revelation and immense talent.

Start with the Narrator, the full-throated Ron Jenkins, clearly the older and wiser version of the unseasoned Youth, played with fleet-footed assurance by Taylor Moss. Michelle Golden is the Mother, who’s given Youth his solid upbringing. Mia Angelique Fowler, Zoe Lathan, David Glover and Rico Parker all portray distinctive multiple characters Youth encounters on his odyssey.

In “Passing Strange,” playwright/composer Stew (born Mark Stewart) and composer Heidi Rodewald have crafted an intricate interweaving of rhyme, narrative, insight and song, not quite like the standard musical. In published interviews, Stew acknowledges an admiration for J.S. Bach; this resonates throughout the score, especially as songs are set in counterpoint to other songs.

In addition to the excellent voices of the cast, a crack sextet led by conductor/ keyboardist P. Tim Valentine contributes both vocal and instrumental accompaniment: keyboardist Joey Skoch, drummer Britta DeVore, bassist Derrick Walter and guitarists Rita Bole and Larry Marotta. Get to the Garden Theater early and hear their pre-play set.

But by all means do get there. “Passing Strange” is a musical Central Ohio theatergoers should not pass up.