Musical Influences

Stew had a passion for music from a young age. Between singing gospel at church and joining an R&B band at 14, his influences span every genre, from Gospel to Pink Floyd. Stew said in an interview with Wilma Dramaturg Walter Bilderback, “I mean what would people say if I told them that the Partridge Family was probably the single biggest influence on me becoming a professional musician? That doesn’t fit the standard narrative but I’d like to mention it.”

While abroad in Berlin in the 1980s, he played with a mixed-media art group The Wonderful Guise. Stew categorizes his work with The Negro Problem as “Afro-Baroque Cabaret,” a term all his own. This diversity of taste clearly influenced the music in Passing Strange.






Content courtesy of The Wilma Theater’s Passing Strange Education Guide.


Stew and Heidi’s band The Negro Problem was the band in the original production of Passing Strange. Because of this close musical and personal relationship, the band is an integral part of the show; they answer the call-and-response of the Narrator and interject with song and dialogue. The band is a character itself, telling the story along with the actors.

The Wilma’s Passing Strange band was not a group before this project. Since Stew went through the original Passing Strange process with his band, he knew that to make it musically successful, the four musicians for the Wilma’s Passing Strange would have to become a band. So they had band practice: the four musicians have been practicing with Stew and Heidi since September. Once Stew thought they were ready, the band needed a gig. On December 11th, 2017, the Wilma’s Passing Strange band had a rock concert in Good Karma Café. An audience of Passing Strange super fans, Wilma patrons, and University of the Arts students together to rock out with Stew and the new Passing Strange band.

MUSIC DIRECTOR AND PIANIST AMANDA MORTON hails from Albany, NY. Amanda has a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre from Ithaca College. Amanda is a Senior Lecturer at University of the Arts.

DRUMMER BEN DIAMOND hails from San Diego, CA and got his B.A. in Music from Haverford College. Ben is a freelance teacher, musician, and composer working in Philadelphia.

BASS GUITARIST ELLYN HEALD is a musician and actress currently residing in Brooklyn, NY. Ellyn received her M.A. from London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts for Classical Acting.

GUITARIST JAKE HAGER is a Philadelphia-based musician and music teacher, both playing in pit orchestras and his own bands. He worked with Stew back in 2015, accompanying him for a piece at University of the Arts.

Content courtesy of The Wilma Theater’s Passing Strange Education Guide.