Five questions with Giles Terera of 'Passing Strange'

Best known for originating the role of Aaron Burr in the West End production of Hamilton, Terera is going back to his roots in Passing Strange at the Young Vic.

Olivia Rook
Olivia Rook

Giles Terera wowed audiences as Aaron Burr in Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton when it came to London, winning the Best Actor in a Musical Olivier Award in 2018. Since then, he has starred in his own play The Meaning of Zong at Bristol Old Vic in 2022 and the Barbican last year, as well as Blues for an Alabama Sky and Othello, both at the National Theatre. Now he is taking on the role of a musician who travels through Europe, where his talents blossom, in Stew's musical Passing Strange.

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What is Passing Strange about and who do you play?

Passing Strange is about a young man who sets out on a journey from America to Europe to find himself personally and artistically. His journey leads him to experience incredible things and amazing people, and I play him.

If you like theatre that is thought-provoking, emotionally engaging, and entertaining, this is the perfect show. Stew and Heidi Rodewald have written a show which is really fun and is full of energy. The band is on stage and we connect directly to the audience, so it’s a completely visceral experience.

What Stew writes about in his lyrics and scenes is really honest and rich – emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and intellectually. There’s a lot for an audience to get out of it. I’m excited to see how they react.

What attracted you to the musical?

The story of Passing Strange itself resonates with me in terms of the journey the character goes on, which is very similar to mine as I started out writing music and being in bands. As a singer-songwriter I know the world of this story well. I wasn’t looking to do another musical, but the story and the music touched me very deeply.

I’m always attracted to things I haven’t done before. I played in a band in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at the National Theatre, but that was more blues whereas rock ‘n’ roll is something I’ve never done on stage – even though that’s where I started out. There’s a lot of influences in the music throughout Passing Strange. It starts with a gospel influence and then my character finds rock ‘n’ roll. He arrives in Europe and experiments with music and in Berlin he really gets into punk. Bringing this to life with a live band is really cool.

Are there any roles you have played in the past that you would like to return to one day?

The title of Passing Strange comes from a line in Othello, who I just played last year at the National Theatre. It wasn’t a part that I coveted before, but having done it I would like to return to it someday.

Hamilton and Me: An Actor’s Journal was published in 2021, and your first play, The Meaning of Zong, was staged in 2022. Do you plan to write more plays?

I’m currently writing a play about the great British journalist Gary Younge, who I grew up with. I’m also working on a musical with the Barbican.

How would you like to see the theatre industry change?

We need more working-class artists.

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Photo credit: Giles Terera in rehearsals for Passing Strange. (Photo by Charles Flint)

This article first appeared in the May issue of London Theatre Magazine

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