Passing Strange

Stew, the corpulent black joker who leads the band called the Negro Problem, wouldn't seem like the most likely candidate for adapting his life story into a Broadway musical. But Passing Strange, which told the story of his youthful move from middle-class Los Angeles to Amsterdam and Berlin -- wrestling with his racial and artistic identity all the while -- was a triumph. It even won a Tony Award (for the book, but still). Many of the elements that made Passing Strange shine in the theater are absent on the cast album; especially missed are the bulk of Colman Domingo's supporting performance and the clever casting of black performers as Nordic princesses, which gave extra resonance to questions of racial "passing." And while the Negro Problem records work better as albums, there's still plenty to enjoy about this disc: Stew's wry presence as the "Narrator" of his own life, the supple groove of the house band, or the blistering Berlin rock song "May Day." At their best, the lyrics capture both the "Superfly in the buttermilk" experience of being a black American abroad and the sometimes-pretentious but always-funny awakening of an artistic free spirit: "I am the twentieth century incarnate," sings Daniel Breaker as Youth (the stand-in for a younger Stew). "The twentieth century coming home covered in mud / And missing a shoe."

April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.