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In this astounding and explosive documentary, Spike Lee captures the eponymous Broadway musical show written by singer/songwriter Stew. The resulting work unites revelatory theater with superb filmmaking, raising the whole to a dizzyingly plateau of emotional engagement.
The story (developed at the Sundance Theatre Lab) concerns the uneasy relationship of a young black man (called simply Youth in the show's credits) with his life. Raised somewhere south of Interstate 10 in Los Angeles, our hero, a would-be songwriter, stews in a sea of conflicted cultural signals.
He chafes under his mother's fixation on family ties and church and her bourgeois aspirations. So he sets out on his own-like pioneers Josephine Baker and James Baldwin-to Europe, seeking something "real." Picaresque misadventures with sex, drugs, politics, and art await Youth in far-out Amsterdam and hypermilitant Berlin.
His eyes are opened ever wider, even revealing what he left behind. An absolutely superb cast, ably supported by sparing (but pitch-perfect) costumes, design, and stagecraft, bring to life the emotionally charged story with its astounding original music, narrated and overseen by Stew himself.
Lee's multicamera coverage of the event (including backstage scenes) involves the audience in not only the text but the electricity of the ensemble's onstage adventure. It's a tour-de-force of creative collaboration and inspiration.