the beauty of the marketplace is that once something
new and different proves it can make money and draw in new
audiences, producers are quick to jump on the bandwagon.
Barbara Freitag, who had the unique distinction of being a
producer on three of this year’s tony-nominated productions
in three different categories (Passing Strange, August: Osage
County and The Homecoming) says appealing to new audiences
is a huge priority for producers.
“you want an audience, you want a new audience,” she says,
“and you want to bring in new people who don’t ordinarily go
Freitag and her fellow producers took a big step in that
direction with Passing Strange. With book, lyrics, composition
and narration by Stew (mark Stewart) of the band the Negro
problem, the play told the story of a young African-American
musician’s odyssey through europe, where he discovers his
first real sense of home. One of Stew and co-composer heidi
rodewald’s main goals for the production was to bring real
music to the Broadway stage.
“All I wanted to do with this play was try to bring in the
actual music that music people like to listen to, that rock musicians like and rock fans like,” says Stew, who claims every
rocker has a secret desire to write a Broadway musical.
unconventional in both its edgy, eclectic tunes and its
cabaret-style format, Passing Strange represented a brand-new kind of Broadway musical. yet while it gained critical
raves and devoted fans—including Spike Lee, who’s directing
a film version of the production—it didn’t end up enjoying a
long run. Stew believes that has a lot to do with the marketing
machine’s struggle to keep pace with the changes currently
happening on Broadway. Feeling the show would have been
better served by a campaign that reached out to some of the
same kinds of people represented in the production—young,
gay and culturally diverse—Stew said prior to the production’s
closing, “a lot of us involved with the show feel if it closes early
it will be because of the advertising.”
make money and draw
to jump on the bandwagon.
yet while the show may not have been a financial hit, its
influence undoubtedly will be felt in future productions.
“I hope maybe someday we’ll be able to set the standard for
what musicals are like,” Stew says. “I’m pretty sure in the next
couple of years you’ll see some ‘Passing Strange Lites’ and that’ll
be fine with me.”
the musical’s reinvention has been fertile ground for
Broadway’s progress in attracting new audiences, from Hair
in the 1960s to Rent in the ’90s to last year’s Spring Awakening
and this year’s Passing Strange and In the Heights. even a more
musically traditional production like The Color Purple, (
produced by Oprah Winfrey) brought nontraditional audiences
to Broadway because of its African-American themes and cast.
this year’s tony winner for Best musical, In the Heights, is