A Strange Loop
A Strange Loop poster.jpeg
2022 Broadway poster
MusicMichael R. Jackson
LyricsMichael R. Jackson
BookMichael R. Jackson
PremiereMay 3, 2019 (2019-05-03): Playwrights Horizons, New York City
Productions
AwardsObie Award for Playwrighting
Pulitzer Prize for Drama
Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical
Tony Award for Best Musical
Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical

A Strange Loop is a musical with book, music and lyrics by Michael R. Jackson. In 2019, the show had its world premiere off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in co-production with Page 73 Productions.[1] The Washington, DC production was postponed to December 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[2][3] A Strange Loop premiered on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre on April 26, 2022, following previews beginning April 14.[4][5] At the 75th Tony Awards, A Strange Loop earned a leading 11 nominations and won for Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical. A Strange Loop also won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The show follows Usher, a Black, queer writer writing a musical about a Black, queer writer writing a musical about a Black, queer writer. The title refers to a cognitive science term coined by Douglas Hofstadter, as well as a song by Liz Phair.

Plot summary

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The chorus, depicted as Usher's Thoughts, calls Usher's name out many times. Usher, working as an actual usher for The Lion King, informs the audience about what the show will entail. Usher wonders if and how he should write A Strange Loop to represent what it's like to "travel the world in a fat, Black, queer body" and the pressures of doing so ("Intermission Song").

After work, Usher sings about how he plans "to change this show for the better". Usher wants to change himself, but his Thoughts, full of self-loathing and worry, are too disruptive ("Today"). He gets a call from his mother, who asks about "what's going on in [his] life" and reminds him of the work she and his father (both named after characters in The Lion King) went through to raise him. She then requests that Usher write a Tyler Perry-style gospel play in return ("We Wanna Know").

Hanging up, Usher sings about how he wishes he could act more like his "inner white girl" while he is held back by expectations put on Black boys ("Inner White Girl"). After the song, Usher's Thoughts criticize "Inner White Girl," the show, and advise him that the main character should have more sex appeal or that he should add elements of "slavery or police violence so that the allies in the audience have something 'intersectional' to hold on to."

Usher’s father calls, leaving a message to let him know that he was able to find Scott Rudin’s number online, and despite the fact that his father does not condone homosexuality, Usher has student loans to pay off and should leverage their common sexuality to make a connection ("Didn't Want Nothin'").

At a medical checkup, Usher's doctor inquires about Usher's sex life and preemptively prescribes him Truvada, pressuring Usher to have more sex. Usher "enters the sexual marketplace" through the use of various gay dating apps, where he is rejected for being "too Black, too fat, too feminine," and for having too small of a dick. Usher rages against the ways in which the gay community is also discriminatory ("Exile In Gayville").

A stranger on a train asks about what Usher is writing. Usher explains that "A Strange Loop" is a cognitive science term about how "your ability to conceive of yourself as an 'I' is ... an illusion. But the fact that you can recognize the illusion proves it exists." The stranger introduces himself as Joshlet and the two flirt, before Joshlet explains that he's a figment of Usher's imagination. Joshlet dismisses Usher and his Thoughts ask him what his problem is. Usher sings about how "the second-wave feminist in [him] is at war with the dick-sucking Black gay man" ("Second Wave").

Usher's agent calls, informing him that Tyler Perry is seeking a ghostwriter for a gospel play. Usher sings about his low opinion of Tyler Perry’s work. In the appearance of famous Black figures such as Harriet Tubman, Carter G Woodson, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, “Twelve Years A Slave,” and Whitney Houston, his Thoughts accuse him of being a race traitor and persuade him to take the ghostwriting job for "for the money. And Mom. And Dad. And the ancestors" ("Tyler Perry Writes Real Life"). Usher sings through the process of writing the play, acting out all the characters as caricatures ("Writing a Gospel Play").

Back at his job, Usher tells a patron about how he can't continue the show without confronting his parents with his artistic self. The patron advises him to live his life without fear ("A Sympathetic Ear"). Usher's father asks him on a phone call if he has HIV like his cousin Darnell had. The rest of his family appear and the call quickly devolves. Usher's mother asks where her gospel play is.

Usher hooks up with a white man, Inwood Daddy, who fetishizes him and calls him racial slurs ("Inwood Daddy"). After Usher leaves, he questions where his boundaries are ("Boundaries").

He gets a voicemail from his mother wishing him a happy birthday. She continues on to tell him how homosexuality is a sin ("Periodically"). His father calls, informing him people at their church found music of his online and didn't approve ("Didn’t Want Nothin' (reprise)"). Usher's mother and father fight about him and his homosexuality and their worry he might catch AIDS, before Usher explodes with his thoughts about his upbringing, repressed sexuality, and how the lack of support from his father hurt him. Usher and his mother fight about how she's portrayed in the play, and she accuses Usher of hating and disappointing her.

The set transforms into a gospel play, with Usher as a church pastor and the Thoughts as a choir. Usher recalls visiting Darnell in the hospital, and how Darnell refused HIV medication because he thought he deserved to die for his sins. Usher preaches that he has realized "the only thing worse than dying of AIDS would be living with it and hearing the people you loved say 'I told you so.'" Usher's mother eventually stops the show ("Precious Little Dream/AIDS is God's Punishment"). She tells Usher he is loved but she still thinks that his struggle is due to his homosexuality being a sin and that they could "work this gay abomination thang out."

The Thought playing his mother asks Usher if he wants to end the show with hateful caricature versions of his parents. Usher says that he was trying to depict life as it was for him when he was seventeen but the Thought reminds him that he is twenty-six now. Usher realizes that for his perceptions of his parents to change he must change as well. He sings about childhood memories and what it was like to be "one lone, Black gay boy ...who chose to turn his back on the Lord" ("Memory Song"). With his back to the audience, Usher blanches at the thought of the show ending, wondering what will happen. He turns, facing himself, before reflecting on himself, his relationship with others, and what would happen if he were to change, and coming to the conclusion that "change is just an illusion," and that they are in a strange loop.

Cast and characters

Character MTF Workshop (2015)[6] Off-Broadway (2019)[7] Washington, DC (2021)[3] Broadway (2022)[4]
Usher Larry Owens Jaquel Spivey
Thought 1 L Morgan Lee
Thought 2 James Jackson, Jr.
Thought 3 Elijah Caldwell John-Michael Lyles
Thought 4 John-Andrew Morrison
Thought 5 Jason Veasey
Thought 6 Jamaal Clark Turpin Antwayn Hopper

Musical numbers

Productions

Original off-Broadway production

A Strange Loop began previews at off-Broadway venue Playwrights Horizons on May 24, 2019. It opened on June 17, 2019 with closing scheduled for July 7, 2019,[8] before extending to July 28, 2019.[9] The show featured Larry Owens as Usher. The creative team credits included Michael R. Jackson as writer of book, music, and lyrics, Stephen Brackett as director, Raja Feather Kelly as choreographer, Charlie Rosen as orchestrator, and Rona Siddiqui as music director.[10]

Original Washington, D.C. production

The Washington, DC production at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company was originally scheduled for September 2020 and was postponed to December 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[2][3] The six week limited run began previews on November 22, 2021 and opened on December 3, 2021.[11] The show extended another week, changing its closing date from January 2 to January 9, 2022.[12]

Original Broadway production

The Broadway production of A Strange Loop was announced on December 20, 2021.[13] Alongside lead producer Barbara Whitman, many notable people from the entertainment industry served as producers for the production, including Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, Jennifer Hudson, RuPaul Charles, Marc Platt, Megan Ellison of Annapurna Pictures, Don Cheadle, Frank Marshall, James L. Nederlander, Alan Cumming, Ilana Glazer, Mindy Kaling and Billy Porter.[14] Previews were scheduled to begin on April 6, 2022 but were delayed to April 14, 2022 due to COVID-19 breakouts in the cast.[15] It opened on April 26, 2022.

Cast recordings

The original off-Broadway cast recording was released on September 27, 2019, on Yellow Sound Label.[16] The album peaked at number 6 on the Billboard Cast Albums chart.[17] A Broadway cast album was recorded on April 10, 2022 and released on June 10, 2022 through Sh-K-Boom Records, Yellow Sound Label, Barbara Whitman Productions, and Ghostlight Records.[18] It debuted at number two on the Cast Albums chart.[19]

Awards and nominations

On May 4, 2020, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama was awarded to Jackson for the musical, with the committee citing the show as "A metafictional musical that tracks the creative process of an artist transforming issues of identity, race, and sexuality that once pushed him to the margins of the cultural mainstream into a meditation on universal human fears and insecurities." The show is the tenth musical to win the award, as well as the first musical written by a Black person to win and first musical to win without a Broadway run.[20] As one of the Broadway production's producers, Jennifer Hudson's win for the Tony Award for Best Musical made her the second Black woman to receive all four of the major American entertainment awards (EGOT).[21]

Original off-Broadway production

Year Award Category Nominee Result
2020 Lucille Lortel Awards[22] Outstanding Musical A Strange Loop Nominated
Outstanding Director Stephen Brackett Nominated
Outstanding Choreographer Raja Feather Kelly Nominated
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical Larry Owens Won
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical John-Andrew Morrison Won
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical L Morgan Lee Nominated
Outstanding Costume Design Montana Levi Blanco Nominated
Drama Desk Awards[23] Outstanding Musical A Strange Loop Won
Outstanding Actor in a Musical Larry Owens Won
Outstanding Director of a Musical Stephen Brackett Won
Outstanding Music Michael R. Jackson Nominated
Outstanding Lyrics Won
Outstanding Book of a Musical Won
New York Drama Critic's Circle Awards[24] Best Musical A Strange Loop Won
Drama League Award[25] Outstanding Production of a Musical A Strange Loop Nominated
Distinguished Performance Award Larry Owens Nominated
Off-Broadway Alliance Awards[26] Best New Musical A Strange Loop Won
Pulitzer Prize Pulitzer Prize for Drama Michael R. Jackson Won
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical A Strange Loop Honoree
Outstanding Book of a Musical Michael R. Jackson Honoree
Outstanding New Score Michael R. Jackson Honoree
Outstanding Director of a Musical Stephen Brackett Honoree
Outstanding Choreographer Raja Feather Kelly Honoree
Outstanding Actor in a Musical Larry Owens Honoree
Obie Award[27] Playwrighting Michael R. Jackson Won
Special Citation Creative team and ensemble – Antwayn Hopper, James Jackson, Jr., L Morgan Lee, John-Michael Lyles, John-Andrew Morrison, Larry Owens, Jason Veasey, Elijah Caldwell, Stephen Brackett, Raja Feather Kelly, Arnulfo Maldonado, Montana Levi Blanco, Jen Schriever, Alex Hawthorn, Cookie Jordan, Charlie Rosen, Rona Siddiqui, Michael R. Jackson Won

Original Broadway production

Year Award Category Nominee Result
2022 Tony Awards[28] Best Musical Won
Best Book of a Musical Michael R. Jackson Won
Best Original Score Nominated
Best Actor in a Musical Jaquel Spivey Nominated
Best Featured Actor in a Musical John-Andrew Morrison Nominated
Best Featured Actress in a Musical L Morgan Lee Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Stephen Brackett Nominated
Best Scenic Design of a Musical Arnulfo Maldonado Nominated
Best Lighting Design of a Musical Jen Schriever Nominated
Best Sound Design of a Musical Drew Levy Nominated
Best Orchestrations Charlie Rosen Nominated
Drama Desk Awards Outstanding Actor in a Musical Jaquel Spivey Won
Drama League Award[29] Outstanding Production of a Musical A Strange Loop Won
Distinguished Performance Award Jaquel Spivey Nominated
L Morgan Lee Nominated
Outer Critics Circle Awards[30] Outstanding Actor in a Musical Jaquel Spivey Won
Theatre World Award[31] Jaquel Spivey Honoree

References

  1. ^ "A Strange Loop, by Michael R. Jackson". www.pulitzer.org.
  2. ^ a b Culwell-Block, Logan (2020-05-15). "Broadway-Aimed D.C. Production of A Strange Loop Postponed to Summer 2021". Playbill. Retrieved 2020-09-15.
  3. ^ a b c Gans, Andrew (December 3, 2021). "Michael R. Jackson's A Strange Loop Opens at Woolly Mammoth December 3". Playbill. Retrieved December 20, 2021.
  4. ^ a b Rabinowitz, Chloe (January 18, 2022). "Full Cast and Dates Announced for Broadway's A Strange Loop; Tickets Now On Sale". Broadway World. Retrieved January 18, 2022.
  5. ^ "Watch Emotional Curtain Call From 1st Broadway Preview of Pulitzer-Winning Musical A Strange Loop". Playbill. Retrieved 2022-04-18.
  6. ^ Fuller, Sally Henry (February 28, 2015). "Musical Theatre Factory Presents Strange Loop". Broadway World. Retrieved April 7, 2022.
  7. ^ "A Strange Loop". Playwrightshorizons. Retrieved April 26, 2020.
  8. ^ "A Look at A Strange Loop Off-Broadway". Playbill. Retrieved 2022-04-19.
  9. ^ "Michael R. Jackson's A Strange Loop Extends Off-Broadway". Playbill. Retrieved 2022-04-19.
  10. ^ "See the Cast and Creative Team of A Strange Loop Meet the Press". Playbill. Retrieved 2022-04-19.
  11. ^ "Take a 1st Look at Michael R. Jackson's A Strange Loop at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre". Playbill. Retrieved 2022-04-19.
  12. ^ "Odds & Ends: Michael R. Jackson's A Strange Loop Extends Run in Washington, D.C." Broadway.com. Retrieved 2022-04-19.
  13. ^ "Pulitzer-Winning A Strange Loop to Play Broadway". Playbill. Retrieved 2022-04-19.
  14. ^ "RuPaul, Alan Cumming, and Billy Porter Among the Many Producers of A Strange Loop". Theatermania.com. Retrieved 25 May 2022.
  15. ^ "Update: A Strange Loop Broadway Start Postponed to April 14". Playbill. Retrieved 2022-04-19.
  16. ^ "A Strange Loop (Original Cast Recording)". Amazon Music. Retrieved April 26, 2020.
  17. ^ "Chart Search". Billboard. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  18. ^ Culwell-Block, Logan (March 31, 2022). "Pulitzer-Winning A Strange Loop to Record Broadway Cast Album". Playbill. Retrieved April 18, 2022.
  19. ^ "Cast Albums – June 25, 2022". Billboard. Retrieved June 21, 2022.
  20. ^ "A Strange Loop, by Michael R. Jackson". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 4 May 2020.
  21. ^ "With the Tony-winning 'A Strange Loop,' Jennifer Hudson becomes an EGOT recipient". Los Angeles Times. 2022-06-13. Retrieved 2022-06-13.
  22. ^ Clement, Olivia (2020-04-14). "Playwrights Horizons Leads 2020 Lucille Lortel Award Nominations With Strange Loop and Heroes of the Fourth Turning". Playbill. Retrieved 2020-04-16.
  23. ^ "PBreaking: 2020 Drama Desk Awards Nominations- The Full List!". Broadway World. April 21, 2020. Retrieved April 21, 2020.
  24. ^ "2019-2020 New York Drama Critics' Circle Awards". dramacritics.org. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  25. ^ BWW News Desk. "Breaking News: Drama League Announces 2020 Nominations". BroadwayWorld.com. Retrieved 2020-05-01.
  26. ^ Clement, Olivia (April 28, 2020). "Check Out the Nominees for the Off-Broadway Alliance Awards". Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  27. ^ "2020 Obie Awards". obieawards.com. Retrieved July 14, 2020.
  28. ^ Towers, Andreas (May 9, 2022). "Tony Awards 2022: See the full list of nominees". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved May 9, 2022.
  29. ^ Rosky, Nicole. "2022 Drama League Awards Nominations Announced- Full List!". BroadwayWorld.com. Retrieved 2022-04-25.
  30. ^ "The Lehman Trilogy, Kimberly Akimbo & Harmony Lead 2022 Outer Critics Circle Award Nominations". Broadway.com. Retrieved 2022-04-26.
  31. ^ "Theatre World Awards 2022". New York Theater. 2022-05-06. Retrieved 2022-05-06.