While a little-known show called “Spring Awakening” has been making waves across Broadway, those looking for a more intimate, but no less energetic, experience should head to the Public Theater, where “Passing Strange” is on through June 3. An amalgam of rock performance, cabaret and improvisational theater, “Passing Strange” follows a young black man as he journeys from his comfortable home in Los Angeles to Amsterdam and Berlin on an identity search, all recounted by the show’s ever-present narrator, Stew, who also wrote the play and music. The musical’s success is due in no small part to its co-star, 26-year-old Daniel Breaker, who plays the role of “Youth” and appears in practically every scene. No small feat. As he puts it, “I think it takes mild insanity.”
ON THE MOVE: Born in Manhattan, Kan., the youngest of four children, Breaker is no stranger to the peripatetic life having grown up a military brat. He even lived in Germany as a kid and so feels a certain kinship with his character. “I actually went through that whole idea of identity and what it was to be black…certain Europeans would create this image of me and I would accept it to a certain extent. It’s my life in a nutshell, now in a play.”
THE NAMESAKE: Breaker first encountered the play while at the Sundance Institute festival in 2005. He was already performing in one large show and was approached by the “Passing Strange” folks. “They were like, ‘We need a black guy to do this part,'” he recalls. “And I didn’t know what it was about. I didn’t know who this guy was. I was like, ‘His name is Stew? He goes by Stew? That’s odd.’ But they gave me the script and we started singing and acting and it was just a perfect fit.”
HAIRY EXPERIENCE: Inspiration can come in many forms. For Breaker, his acting epiphany came at the age of 11 while watching his older brother perform in “Hair” at a community college. “I remember thinking, ‘These people are dancing around naked — I want to do this. Do people get paid for this? They’re like singing and dancing and rubbing around in orgies. Sign me up.'”
This story first appeared in the May 25, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
FAMILY MATTERS: Breaker moved to New York after high school and attended Julliard before pursuing a theatrical career. But his earliest paid acting gig was of a slightly lower pedigree. “The first time I ever really did anything was as a Steve Urkel impersonator. That is where I made my money. When I was a kid, I would do birthdays and Christmas parties…it was for a series of my mom’s friends and then military people.”
FAST TIMES: In “Passing Strange,” Breaker’s character seeks enlightenment (with a little drug-induced help) in Amsterdam. But in real life, the globe-trotting actor has never visited the free-loving city. “I did a show in Scotland and after the show, half the cast said, ‘We’re going to Amsterdam. Do you want to go?’ And I thought, ‘I don’t think I’m ready to go to Amsterdam.’ Because for whatever reason I just thought I’m going to have so much fun, I’m going to be annihilated down there.”