Sunday, February 21, 2010

Stew and Heidi "Making It" at St. Anne's Warehouse

We caught Stew, Heidi Rodewald and their great band (Marty Beller-drums, Michael McGinnis-woodwinds, Joe McGinty-keyboards, Dan Peck-tuba, Brian Dry- trombone) at St.Anne's Warehouse. Although the Tony-award winning success of "Passing Strange" as it moved from workshop in Berkeley to off-Broadway, to Broadway as well as Spike Lee's film of the Broadway performance, has virtually associated them with new musical theater, the current show is essentially a concert, featuring a song cycle, soon to be an album, called "Making It" that follows the complications that life can take when Stew and Heidi began to achieve the dreams from the earlier years that they sang about in "Passing Strange." It features a number of new tunes, very expansively developed with the wind section and the entire band.

On Saturday, Stew was wearing a bright orange coverall. Was this comfortable concert wear, like Pete Townsend, circa Pure and Easy, or like something you would wear in Fresno County Jail, a metaphor that asks the question, even after "Making It," is Stew a prisoner of the road?

As Stew made clear, it was a concert not a theatrical event ("Plays close. Concerts don't.") It was a somewhat abbreviated concert at that, an hour of the new music, followed by a few songs from the catalog (including "Ken" about a gay "Ken" Doll). Still, although Stew asserts his identity as a musician over that of a dramatist, the show managed to feature some interesting stage-crawling theatrics and multi-media moments by set and video designers Jim Findlay and Jeff Sugg.

But, still, abbreviated it was. Maybe it was the full-day they had spent in the studio, but before the show was even over, Stew was griping a bit over the scheduled "talk back" moderated by Bill Bragin, a producer and apparent goombah of Stew and Heidi from Public Theater days. This appeared to be part of St. Anne's "Meet the Composer" program. As Stew kept saying, who needs the talk anyway, don't the songs say it all? In fairness to the performers, since "Making It" was commissioned by St. Anne's this chat appears to have been contracted as a part of the run.

Once the lights went up and the musical portion ended, things got interesting and a little wild, even for St. Anne's. In the chaotic littoral between the actual set and the subsequent gabfest, and not knowing how long the "talk back" would last, some folks, since things appeared to be in motion, got up and made a beeline for lobby. Others in the audience also made their move, either to hit the streets looking for a drink or for a quick run to the rest room.

I couldn't tell if Stew was amused or annoyed, but he began to lead the band in a down and dirty improvised vamp of "They Don't Want to Hear the Talking!" which frankly was among the more amusing, unscripted moments of the night. Some retook our seats. The moderator made his way to the stage. Some folks left for good and Bragin led a fairly brief, tame and mildly informative chat with Heidi and Stew, seeming to rely too much on the audience's input. Stew alternately complimented the audience's intelligence for not asking questions, and chided us, for being afraid to ask. But, like Stew,and Her Majesty, once the show was over, the audience didn't have a lot to say.

But there were two interesting nuggets culled from the "Meet the Composer" talk back: Heidi Rodewald had a strong solo in "Making It," seeming to share the spotlight more fully with Stew (at least for one number) than occurred in "Passing Strange." She observed that, because it was a concert, she had that featured role but wondered if it went to a full-blown theatrical production, whether she would be allowed to retain the spotlight. Stew laughed but, as with all ex-es, no doubt there was more than a twinge of truth in the humor.

Also, when a youngster in the audience asked what inspired him to turn to music, Stew mentioned the usual rock fare of The Beatles in Hard Day's Night, but then he came clean with a great great great great bit of 1960s honesty:

Stew's early and important inspiration? Glen Campbell.

Glen Campbell performs classic Wichita Lineman

"Making It" is at St. Anne's Warehouse through February 22.

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