Saturday, October 23, 2010

The song cycle "Brooklyn Omnibus," by the new Brooklynites who created "Passing Strange," eventually takes us to the haunted arena

Last night I went to the BAM Harvey Theater to see the new song cycle, Brooklyn Omnibus, created by the musicians Stew and Heidi Rodewald, the collaborators on the terrific, quirky, Broadway musical play Passing Strange.

(Photo, via Brooklyn Based, by Jeff Fasano)

Stew, a black guy from L.A. who spent a lot of time in Germany, is an avant-garde rocker; Rodewald has punk rock roots. Both are newcomers, so they don't claim authority, but Rodewald says in this interview she's already nostalgic.

So, with a ten-piece band, three backup singers, and--crucially--video projections, they create a collage that, while hardly comprehensive, prompted nods and laughter from the audience. And yes, at the end, Brooklyn's signal controversy and alleged new centerpiece, the Barclays Center arena, got a macabre mention.

(Here's Louise Crawford's take on OTBKB.)

The blurb

Here's the official blurb:
Stew, the Tony Award-winning creator and star of Broadway’s Passing Strange, joins his band The Negro Problem and co-creator Heidi Rodewald for an irreverent, genre-bending song cycle that considers what it means to call Brooklyn home. With a swaggering score and a raw, unvarnished lyricism, Brooklyn OMNIBUS refracts the Kings County experience through a surreal prism of disparate characters, all living in a nomadic place where the neighborhood is a tribe, the self is an ever-changing storefront, and home is an elusive refuge resting somewhere between.
A few excerpts

"Brooklyn Omnibus" is not to be taken literally; for the purposes of the show, it represents a car service.

"Maybe there's black people in Fort Greene," is the chorus to one early song, which provoked multiple ironies: Stew's a black guy who plays to mostly white (but quite mixed) audiences; we were in Fort Greene (Stew's neighborhood); and the three chorus members were black (while the band was mostly white).

Another song, enhanced by split screen video of the Fulton Street Mall and 7th Avenue in Park Slope, posited a magical switch, in which mall denizens found organic "bling" in the Slope and Slopers bought nonorganic milk.

Less successful was a song about (I think) a white guy in Bed-Stuy who mugged his neighbors to keep the rents down.

A "sexy Brooklyn mommy" song clearly applies to specific neighborhoods, while a song about nostalgia--enhanced by old postcards--ranges more broadly.

The haunted arena

There was an encore, a "vampire song" on which Stew had to vamp a bit, since he'd misplaced the lyrics, but, as he sang, "only ghosts have eminent domain/we can't wait 'til the Barclays Center is done."

He continued: "Only the dead have eminent domain/it's the dead's job to drive the living insane."

In other words, even a newcomer knows it's haunted (with a nod to Thomas Wolfe's "Only the Dead Know Brooklyn.")


From an interview

In an interview with Sandy Sawotka, BAM’s communications director:
What drew you to Brooklyn as a subject? How is Brooklyn unique?
Stew:
Brooklyn is too big to grasp and always in flux. Like the universe, it is unknowable, and yet we keep trying to figure it out. Brooklyn started us thinking about how strongly people identify with neighborhoods and the pleasures and dangers of that. As Californians, we are far less tribal than East Coast people; we were fascinated by that. There was also a very American ahistorical thread I became obsessed with—the idea that people can identify so strongly with an area culturally and racially that may have been populated by a completely different culture/race just 15 years before.
He also adds, later:
Everybody in Brooklyn feels like they own it. We don’t. If anything, we feel like Brooklyn owns us.

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