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 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysely Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.

The Promise of Hope

Killed last year in the infamous terror attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall, Kofi Awoonor was a national treasure in his native Ghana.  His career began in 1964 with Rediscovery, and this magnum opus serves as a tribute to his entire long journey charting his beloved nation's course through his accomplished poetry.

Winter Mythologies and Abbots

A pair of linked stories finds that, as translator Ann Jefferson relates, "[Pierre] Michon's great theme is the precarious balance between belief and imposture, and the way the greatest aspirations can be complicated by physical desire or the equally urgent desire for what he calls glory."