Soul outfit JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound takes on Passing Strange with Bailiwick Chicago
Uptown Sound frontman Jayson Brooks returns to acting as the Narrator in the rock musical’s Chicago premiere.
“Rock bands doing musicals is becoming less of a surprise thing,” Jayson Brooks says, citing Tony winner Duncan Sheik, Green Day’s Broadway adaptation of American Idiot and the work of U2’s Bono and the Edge on a certain web-slinging show that might open someday. Brooks adds, self-deprecatingly: “I mean, those are obviously higher-profile projects.”
Brooks is all too happy to join the trend in his capacity as frontman of the soul revival group JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound. They’ll provide the sound for Bailiwick Chicago’s production of Passing Strange, opening this week.
Though he’s better known for the band these days, Brooks is also a fine stage actor, Jeff-nominated for his role as Coalhouse in Porchlight Music Theatre’s hit production of Ragtime in 2007. But due to JC Brooks’s increasing success, Jayson Brooks hasn’t done a full production as an actor in two years. Yet Passing Strange, he says, was meant to be: “It was the perfect confluence of circumstance.”
A curious but compelling hybrid of musical theater, cabaret and rock show, Passing Strange tells the story of a callow suburban black youth who finds his way into an artist’s life via a journey through Europe in search of “the real.” It was loosely based on the story of its author, the one-named singer-songwriter Stew, who served as the show’s sardonic, guitar-slinging narrator on Broadway and earned the 2008 Tony for best book of a musical.
Spike Lee, a big fan of the show, filmed the Broadway production; if not for his version, which ran on PBS’s Great Performances last year, Bailiwick’s wouldn’t be happening.