Before breaking out with the rock-and-soul group JC Brooks And The Uptown Sound, Jayson Brooks was a rising star in the city’s musical theater scene. Returning to the stage in Bailiwick’s production of the Tony Award-winning Passing Strange, Brooks recently took the Uptown Sound with him for the Midwest première of the autobiographical rock musical which ran for over a month at the Chicago Center For Performing Arts. Passing Strange is the story of musician Stew’s journey to find his creative role in the world, leaving behind a mother in Los Angeles to seek enlightenment abroad. Now that the band is back on the road, playing tonight at North Star Bar with Black Landlord, The A.V. Club talked to Brooks about Passing Strange, playing the role originated by the show’s creator, and how he relates to Stew’s experience on a personal and artistic level. (If you're interested in seeing Passing Strange, Wilmington, Delaware's Bootless Artworks will be putting on a production later this fall.)
The A.V. Club: What was your first exposure to Passing Strange?
JC Brooks: It was last spring. After rehearsal, our saxophonist Chris [Neal] was like, “I was watching this thing on PBS the other night, and it was something you’d probably really enjoy.” And he didn’t see the whole thing, so he sort of skipped the story. “It’s about this black kid who doesn’t fit in, and blah blah blah.” And I thought that sounded interesting. I didn’t even realize Spike Lee had gone through the trouble of filming or anything like that. I just thought it was one of those random—PBS used to show Nunsense and things like that whenever they were doing a pledge drive, just hawking the videos—I thought it was like that. So I’m wondering why I couldn’t find it anywhere, and then I found out, hey, you have to buy it. I Netflixed it and saw it and thought, “Wow, this is was a pretty awesome musical.” Then in October, Lil [Director Lili-Anne Brown] asked if me and the band would be interested in doing Passing Strange, and I was like, “I’ll make sure they’re interested.”
AVC: As a musician, did you see parallels between Stew’s experience and your own?
JB: Yes and no. I can definitely identify with the main experience. Not really feeling comfortable at home, not feeling at home at home, and looking elsewhere for that. Beyond that, the other coincidences are pretty loose. One of the characters in the show is named Marianna, and I used to date this dude named Marion. We have a sort of similar story, and it actually became the focus of the first [StrangeVision] blog.