Tuesday, June 18

Passing Strange – Young Vic

If there was a list of stories that amaze and bewilder you, and make you feel a tad regretful of the decisions you made as a teenager that led you to your adult-self, Passing Strange would certainly make the cut. Originally directed by Annie Dorsen, the Tony Award-winning rock musical from Broadway makes its premiere on European soil at the Young Vic, burning the stage with electrifying music, wild performances, and a bold and quintessential coming-of-stage story.

Passing Strange follows the narrative of Youth (Keenan Munn-Francis) who lives with his mother in a comfortable, laid-back, Churchish black household in LA in the seventies, where he is coaxed to attend the Church. While he fails to find God, he certainly discovers his tribe and a chance at making music, the only way he seems to understand the world. The narrative beautifully captures the theme of ‘passing’ through its plot, music, movement, staging and performance as our youth passes through not only genres of music and countries but also different identities in the advent of discovering his true self and ‘song’. He abandons his home and travels through the free love and druggy life of Amsterdam and the capitalist-protesting performance art movement of Berlin only to return home to an unfortunate loss which allows him to learn that the “true self” is simply a result of social construct and can possibly be found in his art. And this ‘passing’ is weaved playfully, wisely, and often sardonically by his ‘adult-self’, the narrator (Giles Terera) who centres the trio band of drums, electric guitars, and pianos, sprinkling food-for-thought commentary on the youth’s journey, the band and everything in-between. Full of colour, vibrancy and wildness, there is something deeply spiritual about this journey though it’s sometimes born out of drugs. 

Photo: Marc Brenner

Lyrics by Stew Stewart and music by Stew and Heidi Rodewald are powerful, witty, and fun. Munn-Francis subdued physicality captures the Youth’s innocence and calm yet confident rebellion. The ensemble played by Nadia Violet Johnson, Renée Lamb, Caleb Roberts, and David Albury shift their characters with great skill and ease from choir teenagers at the church in LA to free-spirited Amsterdammers to protesting artists in Berlin. Rachel Adedeji as the mother of the Youth portrays her love, longing, and control over his son with a powerful force. 

The highlight of the show besides stellar performances is the concept which penetrates most brilliantly into all creative aspects- be it the youthful, chaotic and somewhat rebellious set (Ben Stones) with furniture items spread here and there and the band presented in a wedge-like shape, the loud and vibrant lights (Richard Howell), or the care-free choreography (Dickson Mbi)- the post-modern chaos, bewilderment and free-spiritedness of the youth intermingle the social, personal and political. Everything is extreme, fuller, and sometimes cartoonish- be it offering an American take on European art or the effect of psychedelics on the youth, his comrades and the projection. And it strangely works probably due to Terera’s assured and grounded presence through the show. 

Certainly Unmissable!

Passing Strangeis running until 6th July 2024 at the Young Vic, https://www.youngvic.org/whats-on/passing-strange

Reviewer: Khushboo Shah

Reviewed: 22nd May 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.