(photo: Susan Rosenberg Jones)
James Baldwin had nothing to do with it. Or so we're told.
Even so, he's all over Notes of a Native Song, repeatedly referenced in words and video images, popping up in comically surprising places that will have you double-checking your old vinyl albums because...well, wait a minute...!?!
Harlem Stage's 14-month Year of James Baldwin goes out boldly this week with a commissioned premiere by Stew, star and Tony-winning co-creator of Passing Strange. The new 75-minute work invites us to Baldwin Country, a place where Stew will pair Baldwin's "social remedies" with his own "anti-social questions." For it is the rockin' poet's quest to rescue "Harlem's Bard" from what Stew considers to be our selective, safe memories of the provocative writer.
James Baldwin? Safe? Respectable? Hmmm.
Well, all anti-social questions aside, Stew himself strikes me as anything but safe in his wry, incisive poetry, his madly eclectic, often gorgeous music (co-composed with Heidi Rodewald), his singing, his very being. Passionate, insistent, occasionally snide, yet capable of disarming beauty, Stew can make you grin one minute and the next, feel a chill race up your chakras.
Bass/guitars/Moog: Heidi Rodewald
Percussion: Urbano Sanchez
Woodwinds: Mike McGinnis
Piano: Art Terry
Lighting: K. J. Hardy
Video design: Joan Grossman
Tickets are almost gone. Connect with Harlem Stage here for shows Wednesday through Saturday, 7:30pm and Saturday and Sunday matinees, 2pm.
Harlem Stage Gatehouse
150 Convent Avenue (at 135th Street), Manhattan