After all, he has received accolades from most every major publication, and Passing Strange recently won the Drama Desk and New York Drama Critics' Circle Awards for Outstanding/Best Musical. The new musical is also sailing into Tony season with seven nominations, and four of those bear Stew's name: Best Book of a Musical, Best Performance By a Leading Actor in a Musical, Best Orchestrations (with Heidi Rodewald) and Best Original Score (also with Rodewald).
Yet, the musician-cum-Broadway star reflects on his warm reception from the Broadway community with humility. "I think the only vanity is that I'm lucky enough to have these wonderful, amazing people who are willing to collaborate with me when I walk into the workshop, rehearsal room or walk on stage," Stew said during the May 14 Tony nominees press reception. "I look at all these people that are willing to work with me, and that's the only time I could possibly become vain. I'm like, 'Wow, it's so humbling that they're willing to spend their time [with me].'"
Passing Strange came about through years of collaboration and fine-tuning through the Sundance Lab and productions at Berkeley Rep and the Public Theater prior to its Broadway bow at the Belasco. Stew maintains that it has been the collaboration that has made the journey worthwhile — with director and co-creator Annie Dorsen (known for creating theatrical works from scratch) and the Tony-nominated Rodewald.
Stew and his Passing Strange co-stars are all soaking up the awards season glow. "We're like a family," Stew said when describing his recent network television debut on ABC's "The View." "Ten seconds before we were about to roll — it's kind of tense you're about to go live — and de'Adre [Aziza] has her back to the audience and she looks at me and she says, 'You did this.' I got chills. I mean, I was on television for the first time in my life and I sent her an e-mail after the appearance that said 'No, we did this.'"
Passing Strange's critical reception has been echoed by audience members from all demographics. "It was awe-inspiring to have some 65-year-old lady from Canarsie saying how touching it was. And, then there'd be some hipster kid with a piercing right after saying it was the best thing he'd ever seen. "It's kind of cute when a teenager says it's the best thing they've ever seen cause they're so young," he laughed. "But it's beautiful, too, because you want to be that play, you want to be that thing that a kid's gonna be talking about the rest of their life and says, 'That's the moment I realized I wanted to make theatre.' It's cute, but I take that very seriously.
"That's what's so beautiful about making art — you just do this thing, you don't really know what it is really," Stew added. "It's not completed until the other person hears it. It's completed when these people are across from you and when they are in the audience and they hear it. It's a continually humbling experience."
The four-time Tony nominee isn't resting on his laurels. While adjusting to the early mornings thrust upon him during awards season press engagements, Stew is keeping busy with various creative projects including his next recording with Heidi Rodewald and a screenplay the duo have been hatching for the past few years.
Stew also hinted that "the next play with music" is in the works. "I don't know what it is. It's hard to actually say what it is really. I'm just letting it go and having fun with it," he said of his future stage project. "I'm not really sure what it's going to be because Passing Strange started out as something completely different. Passing Strange was just supposed to be a travelogue of stories about different cities, and it turned into something much more personal."