BY Tony Marco
August 25 2009 9:55 PM ET
Monday, August 17
“We filmed the last three performances,“ director Spike Lee says, “the Saturday matinee, Saturday evening, and we came back for the Sunday matinee.”
Now think about what you did last weekend. And if you don’t feel guilty enough about that Real Housewives marathon, consider that Spike Lee shot a feature film on a Saturday and Sunday.
“And in between the two shows on Saturday,” Lee adds, “we watched the whole matinee we just filmed and said, ‘We’re missing some shit. We got to get it.’”
That shit to which Lee refers is part and parcel of Passing Strange, a rock musical that Lee has captured live for Passing Strange: The Movie. Lee is at the Regency Hotel in Manhattan to promote the film, which is a high-definition rendering of the semiautobiographical stage work penned by Stew, who is also on hand with his music partner, Heidi Rodewald. Stew and Rodewald appear in both pieces in the band, but Stew’s role is a bit more meta, billed as Narrator, while Passing Strange tracks another, much younger version of Stew, called simply Youth.
This central character, played by Daniel Breaker, is a young, black man who jettisons his churchy, middle-class Los Angeles life in the mid ’70s and jets off to Amsterdam and Berlin in search of what he calls “the real,” but he eventually returns to L.A. to deal with the mother he left behind. The show also racked up some frequent flier miles, starting first at California’s Berkeley Rep and then transferring to New York’s Public Theater before making the leap all the way to Broadway, where it earned seven Tony nominations last year.
Lee, wearing a pinstriped navy polo with a New York Yankees logo where the pony should be, has been on board with Passing Strange since its Public Theater run, seeing it twice there and immediately thinking about how to do it as a film. “Negroes would play Dutch people and Germans?” he asks, putting the kibosh on a more traditional, big-budget movie musical. “That’s not going to work.”
Nonetheless, Ron Howard’s company, Imagine, sent a scout to the Public, as Lee had just finished making Inside Man for Imagine. “They weren’t really feeling it,” he confesses. Then Passing Strange moved to Broadway, and Tony award pressure set in. The show was struggling at the box office but was nominated for seven awards. When it won only for best book of a musical, the clock on its Broadway run had begun to tick.