SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, April 11, 2022 (Gephardt Daily) — Critically acclaimed “Passing Strange,” now playing at Salt Lake Acting Company through May 15, delivers as a comedy-drama/rock-musical, but at its beating heart lies a fascinating story of self-discovery, as a young Black man, known as “The Youth” embarks on a life’s journey — a series of passings, which take him from the neighborhoods of South Central L.A. where he grew up, all the way to Berlin.
The musical’s lyrics and book are by singer-songwriter, playwright Stew, with music and orchestrations by Heidi Rodewald and Stew. It was created in collaboration with director Annie Dorsen.
The work has strong links to Utah, too. It was developed at the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab in 2004 and 2005 before a well-received production in Berkley, which ultimately led to Off Broadway and finally Broadway in 2008.
Director Spike Lee was so impressed he made a permanent record of the stage production filming its last three performances. His feature film, based on those productions, had its world premiere at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
Salt Lake City’s Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin, who plays “Mother” in the show, said two other “Passing Strange” cast members, Latoya Cameron and Carleton Bluford, introduced her to the musical more than 10 years ago, but it took some time to get it produced.
“It just wasn’t the right time, or a lot of people thought, we don’t have enough talent in here to do a show that’s all Black people, or will people come to hear us sing rock and punk and gospel?,” Darby-Duffin said. “I think it was good to wait because I think people are ready, I think they’re really jonesing for this and it just feels really good to just kind of tell a story about love and connection that just happens to be a cast full of people of color, who are formidable and amazing and awesome.”
She said there is great synergy within the cast, particularly because four of them went directly from being involved in Plan-B’s “The Clean-Up Project,” written by Bluford, to “Passing Strange.”
“It’s just been familial and warm; we know each other and we recognize each other’s idiosyncrasies. We take care of each other, right, and it’s just an amazing space and place to be in.” The local cast has been joined by four out-of-towners. “We’re all just hungry working actors who are just doing our thing,” Darby-Duffin said.
She added that there is a little added pressure because the cast and crew know this is a seminal piece. “We know how important this is, we know that this is kind of a first for an all-Black cast, all person of color production team mostly and we know that this is a big thing, we know that everybody’s looking at us because we are setting the standard a little. We recognize that we are setting a mold and we know that that’s important and we’re also trying to just enjoy ourselves because there’s so much love and joy in the room every time we walk in.”
SLAC also previously produced “Surely Goodness and Mercy” by Chisa Hutchinson with an all-Black cast.
In addition to having a full-time job, Darby-Duffin is also a motivational edutainer, speaker, and an accomplished jazz vocalist. In a podcast interview with Gephardt Daily, Darby-Duffin reflected on her busy career.
“I am locally known as I think as an actor and also a jazz singer, I have a four-piece jazz band, so we call ourselves a quintet, with myself included, and we actually just got back from Montana, which was a tour that I had previously scheduled pre-COVID and we were just finishing up those last legs of that tour. So I sing jazz music from the American songbook, and I do a little bit of, I like to call it entertainment, so I put in a bit of activism about just coming together and figuring out our stuff as human beings, just taking care of each other. And now I get to be in a musical with all people of color and it’s just been an amazing ride.”
Darby-Duffin told us that during the run, her jazz band is performing May 9 at the Peery’s Egyptian Theater in Ogden, and after “Passing Strange” closes, on June 6 at the Covey Center for the Arts in Provo. For more information about her band’s shows, you can visit Darby-Duffin’s website at deedeedarbyduffin.com. She may also be participating in an out-of-state project, but details of that are under wraps for now.
In her not very ample spare time, she is also launching a podcast on June 1 entitled “Daily Doses with Dee-Dee.”
“I mentioned that I try to do some entertainment and try to do some little inspirational things when I’m singing and I thought, what if I made a podcast out of that, just gave some daily doses of inspiration that just came from what I was feeling and thinking. Who knows if I’ll get an audience but it’s not for them, it’s for me to get it out there and hopefully people will kind of take to that,” she said.
Tickets to “Passing Strange” are available at saltlakeactingcompany.org or by calling 801-363-7522. It should also be noted that SLAC is requiring all audience members to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination and to wear a well-fitting mask.