Arts Listings

‘An Evening with Stew’

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 06:42:00 PM

Stew, the contemporary troubadour whose Tony, Obie and New York Drama Critic Circle Award-winning musical, Passing Strange (now a Spike Lee film), debuted at Berkeley Rep in 2006, will return to play an unusual solo concert Friday at the Oakland Metro Operahouse.  

It was at the Metro where he developed much of his musical’s material as “increasingly theatrical cabaret” from 2002-04.  

An Evening with Stew: Alone and Unguarded, which he described as “a solo acoustic-ish thing even though I will without doubt have a drummer playing quietly and a keyboardist on acoustic piano,” will be presented as a benefit for Oakland Opera.  

Alone and Unguarded will feature songs from Passing Strange as well as other numbers from throughout his career—fittingly, as Passing Strange itself told the semi-autobiographical story of an African-American musician, called The Youth, from Los Angeles searching for himself in Europe. The musical, which won Best Book of a Musical in 2008 Tonys, Best New Theater Piece and Best Performance Ensemble at the Obies, as well as Best Musical from the New York Drama Critics Circle, featured Berkeley native, actress, songwriter and playwright Eisa Davis in the role of The Youth’s mother. 

About the Oakland Metro show’s title, Stew said, “Me and my friends in music have always thought that was the most hilarious Vegas-style show title ever ... I think it’s often used for comedians—which pleases me—and frankly I have waited my entire career to use it.” 

Spike Lee’s film of a performance of Passing Strange premiered this Jan. 16 in the Sundance Festival’s noncompetative Spectrum Documentary program. “Less a documentary than a vividly shot homage,” as the New York Times described it, Passing Strange is different than other coming-of-age plays and films in Stew’s words to The Times: “White teen angst is the most documented thing in the world. You got Jimmy Dean and Marlon Brando, and everybody is riding around on motorcycles all angry, but you know what? Black folks have that too. Ask around.” 

Spike Lee underlined the point: “When you are a young black kid, you see three options. You can be a rapper, a baller in the NBA or NFL, or end up slinging drugs on a corner. But being an artist? C’mon. ... You’ve seen this kid before, but never in a play.” 

Stew, 47, whose given name is Mark Stewart, collaborates with Heidi Rodewald, developing his sound, “Afro-Baroque Cabaret,” and has led two bands, The Negro Problem, and Stew. 


8:30 p.m., Feb. 20 at Oakland Metro Operahouse, 630 Third St. (near Jack London Square). $12 advance, $15 at door.