“Passing Strange” at ACT’s Bullitt Cabaret

If you love or loved rock concerts, if you thrill to the boom of the music and don’t care if you can understand the lyrics or not, then “Passing Strange” is the show for you. The music pounds through the relatively small Bullitt Cabaret, and every audience member is close enough to feel it, if not interpret the words. I would suggest you look the show up on the Internet before you go so that you understand all that is going on. As in opera, having read the libretto or superscript words above the stage greatly enhances understanding, hence appreciation of the performance.

In this picaresque tale, a young African-American man ventures forth to find himself, winding up first in Amsterdam and then in Berlin. Of course he meets all sorts of people who help or hinder him on this journey toward self-enlightenment. Among the issues he grapples with are: religion, sexuality, “passing”, drugs, materialism, love, family relationships, and grief.

Sidecountry Theatre presents this local production under the direction of Tyrone Brown whose cast members are in fine voice. The musicians, led by Jose Gonzales, cause the space to throb with their overpowering sound. The minimal stage set with its ever-moving instrument cases works perfectly well. What’s really interesting is the light and image show projected onto “boxes” affixed to the wall above the musicians. The changing colors and occasional depictions of scenes are subtle but effective, and do make one think of the light shows at rock concerts.

When this show appeared on Broadway in 2008 it won the Tony for Best Book of a Musical as well as three Drama Desk Awards and numerous nominations. Spike Lee made a movie of the staged performance. So if rock concerts with a story appeal to you, you’ll probably like this. But do your homework first or you’ll probably have difficulty understanding all the dialog.

Through June 29 at the Bullitt Cabaret in ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle (206 292-7676 or acttheatre.org).

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