Stew's High Substitute for the Head Lecturer Plays Harlem Stage Beginning March 22 | Playbill

Off-Broadway News Stew's High Substitute for the Head Lecturer Plays Harlem Stage Beginning March 22

The Passing Strange Tony winner is accompanied by a 15-piece ensemble.

Stew Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

Harlem Stage presents the premiere of Tony winner Stew’s High Substitute for the Head Lecturer March 22–23 at the New York venue.

Part of Harlem Stage's 40th anniversary season, the evening of music and words sees Stew (Passing Strange, Notes of a Native Song) working through Amiri Baraka and LeRoi Jones' twin influences on his life and art. The playwright, composer, performer, and Harvard University professor is accompanied by a 15-piece ensemble, Baba Bibi.

Baraka, previously known as LeRoi Jones, was a writer and founder of the Black Arts Movement, which Harlem Stage explored in programs throughout its 2022-2023 season. He was awarded the Harlem Stage Transformative Artist Award in 2019.

In an earlier statement Stew said, “While I'm drawn aesthetically to his early work as LeRoi Jones, I can't deny the hard truths that exist within the later work: as American artists, and as Black American artists definitely, we are fighting with how to deal with capitalism, and also fighting to write the poem that we just feel like fucking writing. Baraka was always interrogating the effectiveness of art: he was doing it in all these different places and ways, from doing 'art for the artist's sake' in the beginning, all the way to Black Nationalism, to revolutionary communism. You see him failing sometimes and you also see him being so incredibly, majestically successful in his writing, when nobody nails it like he does.”

High Substitute is the second in Stew’s series of “Black superhero free-constructions,” which began with Notes of a Native Song, a musical meditation on James Baldwin, also commissioned by Harlem Stage. 

“Harlem Stage is the place for these superhero shows," added Stew. "I saw Baraka read for the first time in Harlem about ten blocks from Harlem Stage; doing this anywhere else wouldn’t be the same. When we did Notes of a Native Song, we literally had people in the audience who knew Baldwin when he was 14 years old; people who knew his family; we had his family, themselves. Toni Morrison was there, sitting in the front row in front of my horrific guitar amp."

Featuring music by Stew and Heidi Rodewald and a book and lyrics by Stew, Passing Strange was nominated for seven 2008 Tony Awards, winning for Best Book of Musical for Stew.

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