By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
“This show” — the one I had seen the night before at Joe’s — “rocks more than the Berkeley show ever did, because Annie kept pushing for more of the band, more guitar, more cowbell, more of that rock & roll thing. Which was funny, because she’s the Yalie expert theater director.”
Says Rodewald: “She’s in the theater, but she hates everything in the theater world, so it was a really nice match. She didn’t want to do anything dorky.”
Stew and Rodewald never liked the theater much either, which is why they never found themselves doing it in L.A. “Rock people hate musicals, traditionally,” he says. “And rightfully so, for the most part. But we all secretly want a big rock show with some big lights and a big cool light show on that back wall. We do. We want that in real life.”
More sushi arrives. A spicy tuna roll, a spider roll. “Here,” Stew says, holding them up over the table. “This is for everyone to share.”
Stew and Rodewald used to be a couple. They aren’t anymore, and don’t care to elaborate on it, except to acknowledge that everybody thinks they are together. “The press is saying that more than ever,” Rodewald says. But they still treat each other with the kind of gentle reserve common to people who have more than just friendship going on. He tends to talk more than she does — way more — so he checks in at intervals to make sure she’s getting both her say and her proper credit. When she does talk, it’s mostly about the work she does with him, and her genuinely egoless devotion to it.
“When I joined the Negro Problem years ago, I was so happy to be in the band because I loved what he was doing so much,” she says. “I’m not a pushy person. I write songs, and I’ve been in bands where I write all the songs. But I was so happy to be playing his songs that I’m never going, ‘Here’s a song, here’s a song, can we play it?’ ”
“That’s the funny part,” Stew says. “In most bands, the first thing that breaks them up is that somebody’s got a song and says, ‘I’ve been in this band for years, I deserve to have a song played by us.’ With Heidi, she never asked, but when I’ve asked her to write something, it’s always been really great. I know a million musicians, but she’s the only one I’m so aesthetically in tune with that I can go, we need something here, and it’s always what I want.
“So we’re committed collaborators forever, because it’s really hard to find somebody that you really click with.”
And who could say it’s not working? Last spring, Rodewald and Stew were both happy just to be living in New York, having their apartments — in the Village and Soho, respectively — paid for by the Public. When they were daydreaming about their next step, they considered the possibility that London would have them next.
“I might have to arrange that myself,” Stew says, “because I don’t know what’s going to happen with this show — I don’t think it’s going to be successful enough to bust out of whatever we’re doing here.”
“Why not?” I wanted to know.
“I’m just not sure it’s the musical that the lady who gets off the bus from Wisconsin is going to want to see,” he says. “It’s just not that feel-good or funny.”
Funny thing about those ladies from Wisconsin: They always surprise you.
“It’s like living a dream,” Stew says several months later, after Passing Strange’s Broadway debut. “Only the dream is someone else’s. And that’s kind of cool — it can’t go to our heads, because it’s not our dream.”
Click here to read Continental Divisiveness: New York and L.A. Theater.
Click here to read An L.A. Playwright's Struggle to Go East.