But when the ex-lovers are songwriting collaborators, trapped together on stage eight times a week in the greatest success of their careers, the survival experience might be worth a whole album.
Stew and Heidi think so. They even got their Los Angeles band -- Stew & the Negro Problem -- back together to record "Making It," which they preview in Saturday night's Port Washington concert before Tuesday's release.
BROADWAY BREAKTHROUGH Stew, aka Mark Stewart, and Heidi Rodewald are the California creative force behind "Passing Strange," the 2008 Tony-nominated musical that Spike Lee filmed a year later. While the show was aborning at Berkeley Rep and Off-Broadway, Stew and Heidi, who had been together since the '90s, were calling it quits. From each other. Not the project.
The album title, "Making It," refers to their artistic and commercial success -- making it on Broadway. But the songs are mostly about relationship ennui. And dealing with it through the "Passing Strange" ride of their lives.
"It was like getting a divorce and living in the same house," says Stew, now living in Brooklyn as he works with Heidi on a new theater project. She lives in Brooklyn, too -- separately.
"Making It," which lyricist Stew and composer Heidi polished in a 2010 series of St. Ann's Warehouse concerts, reunites them with the Negro Problem band with whom they recorded four albums before "Passing Strange."
"We'd already long ago quit our day jobs," recalls Heidi. But the advance from Manhattan's Public Theater allowed them the luxury of developing "Passing Strange" while getting paid even before one ticket or record was sold.
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"That was new for us," says Stew.
THERAPEUTIC TRUISM Heidi had mixed feelings about "Making It." She says, "I'm much more private than Stew is. But he kept saying, 'This is my therapy.' When I heard some of what he'd written, I said, 'Therapy only works if you tell the truth.' "
Now, that's a title on the album. Along with "Curse" ("It's a love and pain thing / a no-one-can-explain thing"). Others, such as "Black Men Ski," recall earlier Negro Problem collections challenging racial stereotypes, beginning with "Post Minstrel Syndrome" in 1997.
Next up is a collaboration with director Joanna Settle, "The Total Bent," which begins Public Lab workshop performances at the Public Theater starting Valentine's Day.
"The key," says Stew, "is to do what makes you happy every day and let the rest go."
WHAT Stew & the Negro Problem in concert
WHEN | WHERE Saturday night at 8, Jeanne Rimsky Theater, Landmark on Main Street, Port Washington. (Also 7 and 9:30 p.m. Monday, 9:30 p.m. Tuesday at Joe's Pub, Manhattan.)
INFO $35-$40; 516-767-6444, landmarkon mainstreet.org; $30 at Joe's Pub, joespub.com