In its savvy, simple, rocking-good-time new production, Bailiwick Chicago makes a surprisingly powerful argument that this most personal of rock-soul musicals stands up very well without its creator, Stew. On Broadway, "Passing Strange" featured Stew coming out on stage and singing something close to his own live story: a rebellious young black man from Los Angeles takes off on a personal and artistic odyssey to Europe. It was all a bit disconcerting watching Stew watch himself, played by a younger actor. In director Lili-Anne Brown's unpretentious new production, singer JC Brooks replaces Stew's stiffer demeanor with a soulful and emotional performance that sets just the right tone of relaxed entertainment coupled with serious inquiry. He's matched by Steven Perkins, a phenomenally talented young actor playing the character known as Youth. It's a deeply empathetic show, and in the hands of Bailiwick, it's also a great night out.
Through May 29 at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts, 777 N. Green St.; $25-$35 at 312-733-6000 or bailiwickchicago.com
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