Mark Stewart, better known by his nickname Stew, was an underground indie rock musician in his native Los Angeles for years before his mainstream breakthrough came with the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical ... Read more »
Mark Stewart, better known by his nickname Stew, was an underground indie rock musician in his native Los Angeles for years before his mainstream breakthrough came with the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical "Passing Strange," an autobiographical tale of his misspent youth as a struggling artist in Europe that was turned into a film by Spike Lee. Raised in Los Angeles by a single mother, Stew was an artistically-inclined teen whose eclectic tastes included art rock, 1960s psychedelia and Stephen Sondheim as well as the R&B and funk that permeated L.A.'s African-American community. After spending several years in Amsterdam and Berlin in the 1980s, Stew returned to Los Angeles and formed the ironically-named indie rock band The Negro Problem. After two critically-acclaimed albums, Post-Minstrel Syndrome (1996) and Joys and Concerns (1998), Stew and his creative and romantic partner Heidi Rodewald (formerly of 1980s college rockers Wednesday Week) began working as a partnership under Stew's name. Stew's albums Guest Host (2000) and The Naked Dutch Painter...And Other Songs (2002) were critically acclaimed, but did little to raise his public profile beyond his solid cult following. It took Stew and Rodewald's "Passing Strange," a rollicking Broadway show featuring Stew as narrator and leader of the onstage band, to do that. The show won four Tonys, including Best Book for Stew. Although Stew and Rodewald ended their romantic relationship during the creation of "Passing Strange," they continued working together, both on new stage projects and a resurrection of The Negro Problem with the album Making It (2012).