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, and winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.[1] First produced off-Broadway in 2019, then staged in Washington, D.C. in 2021,[2] A Strange Loop premiered on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre in April 2022.[3][4] The show won Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical at the 75th Tony Awards.

The show follows Usher, a Black queer man writing a musical about a Black queer man writing a musical. 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, Usher's Thoughts, calls Usher's name many times. Usher, working as an usher for The Lion King, tells the audience what the show will entail. Usher wonders how he should write A Strange Loop to represent what it's like to "travel the world in a fat, Black, queer body" ("Intermission Song").

After work, Usher 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"). His mother calls to ask "what's going on in [his] life" and reminds him how hard she and his father worked to raise him. She requests that Usher write a Tyler Perry-style gospel play in return ("We Wanna Know").

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

Usher’s father leaves a voicemail saying that he found Scott Rudin’s number online. Because Usher has student loans to pay off, his father urges him to leverage their common sexuality to make a connection, despite not condoning homosexuality ("Didn't Want Nothin'").

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

A stranger on a train asks 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 reveals that he's a figment of Usher's imagination. Joshlet dismisses Usher, who sings about how "the second-wave feminist in [him] is at war with the dick-sucking Black gay man" ("Second Wave").

Usher's agent informs him that Tyler Perry is seeking a ghostwriter for a gospel play, but Usher has a low opinion of Perry’s work. Appearing as famous Black figures such as Harriet Tubman, Carter G Woodson, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, and Whitney Houston, his Thoughts accuse him of being a race traitor and persuade him to take the job for "for the money. And Mom. And Dad. And the ancestors" ("Tyler Perry Writes Real Life"). Usher writes the play, acting out all the characters as caricatures ("Writing a Gospel Play").

Back at work, Usher tells a patron 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 calls to ask if he has HIV like his cousin Darnell had. The rest of his family appears, and the call quickly devolves. His 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").

His mother leaves a voicemail wishing him a happy birthday, also telling him homosexuality is a sin ("Periodically"). His father calls to tell him their church community doesn't approve of his music ("Didn’t Want Nothin' (reprise)"). Usher's parents argue with him over his homosexuality and worry he might catch AIDS before Usher explodes about how his upbringing, repressed sexuality, and lack of support from his father hurt him. Usher and his mother fight about her portrayal 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 how Darnell, thinking he deserved to die for his sins, refused HIV medication in the hospital. Usher realizes "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 stops the show ("Precious Little Dream/AIDS Is God's Punishment"). She tells Usher he is loved but thinks he's struggling because homosexuality is a sin, wishing they could "work this gay abomination thang out".

The Thought playing his mother asks if he wants to end the show with hateful caricatures of his parents. Usher says he was trying to depict life as it was when he was seventeen, but the Thought reminds him that he is now twenty-six. Usher realizes that for his perceptions of his parents to change, he must change as well. He sings about 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 wonders what will happen when the show ends. He turns, reflecting on himself, his relationship with others, and what would happen if he were to change, and comes to the conclusion that "change is just an illusion" and that they are in a strange loop.

Cast and characters

Character MTF Workshop (2015)[5] Off-Broadway (2019)[6] Washington, DC (2021)[2] Broadway (2022)[3]
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

Off-Broadway (2019)

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,[7] before extending to July 28, 2019.[8] 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.[9]

Washington, D.C. (2021)

The Washington, DC production at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company was originally scheduled for September 2020, but postponed to December 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[10][2] The six-week limited run began previews November 22, 2021 and opened December 3, 2021.[11] The show extended another week, changing its closing date from January 2 to January 9, 2022.[12]

Broadway (2022)

The Broadway production of A Strange Loop was announced December 20, 2021.[13] Many notable people from the entertainment industry served as the show's producers. They included lead producer Barbara Whitman, as well as 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, but were postponed to April 14 due to COVID-19 breakouts among the cast.[15] The show officially opened April 26, 2022. In October 2022, it was announced that the show would play its final performance on Broadway on January 15, 2023.[16]

Cast recordings

The original off-Broadway cast recording was released on September 27, 2019, on Yellow Sound Label.[17] The album peaked at number 6 on the Billboard Cast Albums chart.[18] 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.[19] It debuted at number two on the Cast Albums chart.[20] The cast recording received a Grammy nomination for Best Musical Theater Album for the 65th Annual Grammy Awards, to be held in February 2023.

Box office

On June 14, 2022, Deadline reported that the musical filled 98% of its available seats during the week ending June 12. The musical grossed $676,316 for seven performances.[21] The musical also broke the Lyceum Theatre box office house record for a standard 8-performance week, taking $860,496 for the week ending June 26, a $15,183 bump over the previous week.[22] As of September 2022, A Strange Loop grossed around $14.2 million from 136,777 attendance and 157 performance.[23]

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.[24] The show premiered on Broadway in April 2022 and won the Tony Award for Best Musical. As one of its producers, Jennifer Hudson became the second Black woman to receive all four of the major American entertainment awards (EGOT).[25]

The cast recording received a nomination for the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album for the 2023 Grammy Awards

Off-Broadway

Year Award Category Nominee Result
2020 Lucille Lortel Awards[26] 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[27] 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[28] Best Musical A Strange Loop Won
Drama League Award[29] Outstanding Production of a Musical A Strange Loop Nominated
Distinguished Performance Award Larry Owens Nominated
Off-Broadway Alliance Awards[30] 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[31] 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

Broadway

Year Award Category Nominee Result
2022 Tony Awards[32] 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[33] Outstanding Production of a Musical A Strange Loop Won
Distinguished Performance Award Jaquel Spivey Nominated
L Morgan Lee Nominated
Outer Critics Circle Awards[34] Outstanding Actor in a Musical Jaquel Spivey Won
Theatre World Award[35] Jaquel Spivey Honoree

References

  1. ^ "A Strange Loop, by Michael R. Jackson". www.pulitzer.org.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ "Watch Emotional Curtain Call From 1st Broadway Preview of Pulitzer-Winning Musical A Strange Loop". Playbill. Retrieved 2022-04-18.
  5. ^ Fuller, Sally Henry (February 28, 2015). "Musical Theatre Factory Presents Strange Loop". Broadway World. Retrieved April 7, 2022.
  6. ^ "A Strange Loop". Playwrightshorizons. Retrieved April 26, 2020.
  7. ^ "A Look at A Strange Loop Off-Broadway". Playbill. Retrieved 2022-04-19.
  8. ^ "Michael R. Jackson's A Strange Loop Extends Off-Broadway". Playbill. Retrieved 2022-04-19.
  9. ^ "See the Cast and Creative Team of A Strange Loop Meet the Press". Playbill. Retrieved 2022-04-19.
  10. ^ Culwell-Block, Logan (2020-05-15). "Broadway-Aimed D.C. Production of A Strange Loop Postponed to Summer 2021". Playbill. Retrieved 2020-09-15.
  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. ^ Culwell-Block, Logan (11 October 2022). "Broadway's A Strange Loop Will Close in January". playbill.com. Archived from the original on 13 October 2022. Retrieved 23 October 2022.
  17. ^ "A Strange Loop (Original Cast Recording)". Amazon Music. Retrieved April 26, 2020.
  18. ^ "Chart Search". Billboard. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  19. ^ Culwell-Block, Logan (March 31, 2022). "Pulitzer-Winning A Strange Loop to Record Broadway Cast Album". Playbill. Retrieved April 18, 2022.
  20. ^ "Cast Albums – June 25, 2022". Billboard. Retrieved June 21, 2022.
  21. ^ "Pre-Tony Broadway Box Office Up 7% To $32M; 'Strange Loop' Fills 98% Of Seats". Deadline. June 14, 2022.
  22. ^ "Broadway Box Office Holds Steady At $31M; 'A Strange Loop', 'MJ' Set House Records". Deadline. June 28, 2022.
  23. ^ "A STRANGE LOOP". Broadway World. September 20, 2022.
  24. ^ "A Strange Loop, by Michael R. Jackson". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 4 May 2020.
  25. ^ "With the Tony-winning 'A Strange Loop,' Jennifer Hudson becomes an EGOT recipient". Los Angeles Times. 2022-06-13. Retrieved 2022-06-13.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ "PBreaking: 2020 Drama Desk Awards Nominations- The Full List!". Broadway World. April 21, 2020. Retrieved April 21, 2020.
  28. ^ "2019-2020 New York Drama Critics' Circle Awards". dramacritics.org. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  29. ^ BWW News Desk. "Breaking News: Drama League Announces 2020 Nominations". BroadwayWorld.com. Retrieved 2020-05-01.
  30. ^ Clement, Olivia (April 28, 2020). "Check Out the Nominees for the Off-Broadway Alliance Awards". Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  31. ^ "2020 Obie Awards". obieawards.com. Retrieved July 14, 2020.
  32. ^ Towers, Andreas (May 9, 2022). "Tony Awards 2022: See the full list of nominees". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved May 9, 2022.
  33. ^ Rosky, Nicole. "2022 Drama League Awards Nominations Announced- Full List!". BroadwayWorld.com. Retrieved 2022-04-25.
  34. ^ "The Lehman Trilogy, Kimberly Akimbo & Harmony Lead 2022 Outer Critics Circle Award Nominations". Broadway.com. Retrieved 2022-04-26.
  35. ^ "Theatre World Awards 2022". New York Theater. 2022-05-06. Retrieved 2022-05-06.