Tony and Obie Award winning writer and composer Stew brings his show, Notes of a Native Song, created in collaboration with composer Heidi Rodewald, to the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT) this week (Dec. 14-17).
Notes of a Native Song is a play on Notes of a Native Son, a collection of essays by James Baldwin. Published in 1955, the essays weave together an intricate examination and critique of gender and race relations and sexual and class distinctions in America and Europe.
With Stew’s L.A.-based band, Stew & the Negro Problem, Notes of a Native Song uses an interesting mix of rock, rhythm and blues, and jazz music. In a review of the show, mounted at the Harlem Stage at The Gatehouse in 2015, The New York Times noted: “A celebration of Baldwin’s legacy as an inspiration for artists to create their own work that, like his, defies genres and expectations.”
Stew won the 2008 Tony Award for Best Book for his Broadway hit Passing Strange. The production earned six other Tony nominations and won an Obie Award and three Drama Desk Awards that year. Passing Strange was also documented in a film by Spike Lee, which premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
Tony Award-nominated and Obie Award-winning co-composer and Stew’s longtime collaborator, Heidi Rodewald joined the Negro Problem in 1997. She has composed music for Karen Kandel as well as for productions of Shakespeare’s Othello, Much Ado About Nothing, and Romeo and Juliet.
In 2011, Stew and Rodewald were the visiting artists in residence at CalArts’ Center for New Performance where they spoke candidly to a room full of theater students about the challenges they faced being musicians wanting to create works of theater.