Trent Armand Kendall in the Aurora Fox’s ‘Passing Strange.’ Photo by Christine Fisk
Actor’s final role was a monumental odyssey culminating in a man coming face-to-face with how he has lived his life
Trent Armand Kendall, who just starred in the Aurora Fox’s groundbreaking production of Passing Strange, died on Wednesday, his partner, Michael Polese, confirmed. The cause of death has not been released, but was said to be a heart attack.
In announcing the news, Polese called Kendall “my best friend and the great love of my life.” He said Kendall “was a gifted artist, an incredible vocalist, an amazing storyteller and a beautiful and passionate soul. His smile lit up the world. His laughter was infectious.”
Passing Strange is rousing funk bio-concert led by a showman named Stew who retraces his epic journey from the suburban comforts of Los Angeles to Amsterdam and Berlin in search of “something more real than real.” It’s a difficult and meaningful odyssey about cultural identity and family that culminates as young Stew comes face-to-face with present-day Stew — and to terms with the unalterable cost his youthful narcissism has exacted on those he left behind.
The Aurora Fox’s Passing Strange, directed by Nick Sugar, closed May 13, making it Kendall’s final role. The title, which comes from Shakespeare’s Othello, had many possible levels of meaning, including that of a young man wasting his time, and that of black man hiding from the world. But most evident is the title’s association with death. The character of Stew is shaken into awareness of life’s urgency when he misses the death of his mother while he’s off “finding himself” in Europe.
Denver actor Sheryl McCallum, who played Stew’s mother in Passing Strange, said she was heartbroken by the news, and that Kendall’s death “is reminder to all of us that we don’t know how much time we have, and that we never know what our lasting impression will be.”
Landing Kendall to play the tricky role of Stew was a coup for the Aurora Fox, and Music Director David Nehls took some small comfort in the fact that Kendall got to play it as his final role. “Passing Strange is a journey of knowledge and self-acceptance,” Nehls said, “and for this to be the piece that Trent exited this world playing is in its way both lovely and fitting.”
Ramsey Scott of the Aurora Sentinel wrote that Passing Strange ended the Aurora Fox’s season on the highest of notes. “This is Kendall’s show at the end of the day,” Scott wrote. “He is on stage in every scene, hovering in the background, taking center stage to address the audience, casually flipping through a book while lovers fight it out in front of him. It is impossible to not have your eyes drawn to him even if he’s just in the background dancing to the music.”
McCallum said the production grew to become a deeply personal experience for Kendall. “He would get very emotional at the end of every show, in particular — and that was very genuine,” she said.
Kendall, who has been active in the New York theatre and music communities since the late 1980s, played several roles in Broadway’s 2002 revival of Into the Woods with Vanessa L. Williams. He appeared in national touring productions of The Color Purple with Fantasia, Bat Boy, Smokey Joe’s Café, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and The Wizard of Oz.
In fact, Nehls said, Kendall added a nod to The Wizard of Oz into his performance of Passing Strange. “For Trent, everything circled back to the idea of home,” he said.
Kendall traveled the world headlining his concert This CRAZY Love, a contemporary throwback to Las Vegas nightlife entertainment. Other prominent stage roles included starring as Detective Hennessy in The Cocoanuts at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Mr. Bones in the Los Angeles premiere of Kander and Ebb’s The Scottsboro Boys at the Ahmanson Theater, and Old Deuteronomy in an international production of Cats. He wrote a one-man musical called Picture Incomplete that he performed in Tampa, New Jersey, New York City and Johannesburg.
A song by Kendall will be included on Chip Deffaa‘s new compilation CD, “Gay Love,” which is being released tomorrow (June 29). The album, which features 28 rare and new songs with a gay romance theme, will be available from Amazon, CDBaby, ITunes and Footlight Records. It can be pre-ordered or downloaded here. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fight AIDS.
Kendall was born in St. Louis. He graduated from Southwest High School and the University of Missouri-Columbia. He later trained at the Institute for Theater Training in Jupiter, Fla.
Polese said a memorial will be planned in the near future. “Tell the people you love that you love them,” Polese wrote on his Facebook page. “Tell them now. Tell them later. Tell them over and over and over again. Do not stop. Tomorrow isn’t promised. Be kind to each other. Just be kind. Caring for each other is the meaning of life.”
John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.
Joseph Lamar, left, and Trent Armand Kendall in the Aurora Fox’s Passing Strange. Photo by Christine Fisk.