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A big Brooklyn ‘Stew’ as singer returns to BAM with boro-themed song cycle • Brooklyn Paper

A big Brooklyn ‘Stew’ as singer returns to BAM with boro-themed song cycle

Stew — remember him from “Passing Strange”? — wrote “Brooklyn Omnibus,” a song cycle about everyone’s favorite borough, with Heidi Rodewald. They’ll perform it at BAM from Oct. 20 to 23 with Stew’s band, The Negro Problem.
Photo by Jeff Fasano

What do born-and-bred Southern Californians Stew and Heidi Rodewald know about Brooklyn? They’d be the first to tell you — not much. But, here they are, gearing up for a Brooklyn-centric concert about the borough at none other than the Brooklyn Academy of Music this month.

“I hate to say it, but Brooklyn is not really the main subject of the show, but it’s two nomadic immigrant songwriters, wandering minstrels if you will, who would have the audacity to write a show that we really don’t know anything about,” said Stew, who spends about half his time in Prospect Heights, the rest in Berlin. “We just landed on this planet, and we like it, and we’re writing songs about it because that’s what we do.”

This month, the porkpie hat-loving Stew and the demure Rodewald share their irreverent version of the borough with “Brooklyn Omnibus,” a song cycle running at BAM from Oct. 20-23.

“Brooklyn is a gigantic world, and this is pretty much our world here — what it means to us, what we see, and what our lives have turned into being here,” said Rodewald, a Southern Californian by heart — she feels naked without a car — who’s lived in Park Slope for just two years. “For people that are interested in seeing Stew’s take on anything, this is his take on Brooklyn.”

Stew and Rodewald have worked together for over 10 years, starting in Los Angeles’ indie scene with the rock and roll band the Negro Problem — fronted by Stew’s confident vocals and Rodewald on bass and backing vocals.

The two’s biggest success came when they collaborated on 2008’s “Passing Strange,” a Tony Award-winning musical that also spawned a Spike Lee-directed movie last year. You could say the two had made it, and they even made a show about that experience called “Making It,” which played six sold-out nights at St. Ann’s Warehouse in DUMBO last winter.

“Brooklyn Omnibus” finds the pair back in Brooklyn, again with the Negro Problem, exploring what it means to live here through their own tinted glasses, rose or otherwise. There’s one song about a black couple that moves from Manhattan to Fort Greene, asking the question, Are they gentrifiers? There’s another about the G train, because “I feel like I am the G train — I would be happy never to go into Manhattan,” said Stew.

“It’s all very humorous,” said the singer, who writes the lyrics while Rodewald handles the composition. “There are these very serious documentary theater projects that are like, Here’s the truth about the evils of gentrification. We don’t claim to know any truths. We’re just trying to observe.”

“Brooklyn Omnibus” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater [651 Fulton St. at Rockwell Place in Fort Greene, (718) 636-4100], Oct. 20-23 at 7:30 pm. Tickets $25-$65. For info, visit www.bam.org.

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