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Last modified: Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Producer of Tony Award-winning musical 'Passing Strange' to speak at IU Bloomington

Nov. 4, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- As part of an Indiana University conference on black experiences in rock music, the producer of the Tony Award-winning musical Passing Strange will speak after a screening of a filmed version of the production.

The versatile singer-songwriter and playwright, who goes by the singular name Stew, will answer questions after a screening of the Spike Lee-directed film Passing Strange, which will begin at 8 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 11 in the Whittenburger Auditorium of the Indiana Memorial Union, 900 E. Seventh St.

He also will speak about his Broadway musical at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 12 in the Ruth Halls Theatre of the Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave. Both events are free and open to the public.

Stew's visit to IU Bloomington is connected to the conference, "Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music," that the Archives of African American Music and Culture is hosting Nov. 13-14. The event will bring together black rock musicians from different generations and regions with music critics and scholars to discuss the socio-political history, musical developments and the future of the genre.

Details about the conference are available at

Written with his creative partner Heidi Rosewald, Passing Strange won the 2008 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical, as well as the best musical awards from the Drama Desk Awards and the New York Drama Critics Circle and two Obie Awards.

The rock musical tells the semi-autobiographical coming of age tale of a character named "Youth," who leaves his devoutly religious mother in South Los Angeles to travel Europe and along the way meets people who help him face his alienation from "normal" society.

Lee's film was an entry in both the 2009 Tribeca and Sundance film festivals and currently is in limited national release. It will be shown on public television next year.

"Stew's musical memoir, a hit on Broadway, has been faithfully recorded by Spike Lee, and somehow also enriched by the presence of the camera," said a New York Times review of the film.

In the early 1990s, Stew, born Mark Stewart, formed a band called The Negro Problem, ironically named to draw attention to the racial divide within the music industry. He has since gone on to release three critically acclaimed solo albums in this decade, two of which were named "Album of the Year" by Entertainment Weekly.

He has participated in Lincoln Center's American Songbook concerts and has written music for SpongeBob Square Pants. His next show, Making It, is set to open early next year.

The event also is sponsored by Indiana Memorial Union Board, the Black Film Center/Archive and the Department of Theatre and Drama.