(Maya Phillips’s article appeared in The New York Times, 4/26; Photo: Jaquel Spivey, center, as Usher, a 25-year-old Broadway usher, in “A Strange Loop” at the Lyceum Theater in Manhattan. Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.)
Michael R. Jackson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning meta musical arrives on Broadway with its uproarious dialogue, complex psychology and eclectic score intact.
A Strange Loop
NYT Critic’s Pick
1 hour 45 minutes
Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St.
When the homophobic, God-fearing, Tyler Perry-loving mother of Usher, the protagonist of the remarkable musical “A Strange Loop,” describes her son’s art, she uses the word “radical.” She doesn’t mean it as a compliment.
But “A Strange Loop,” Michael R. Jackson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning meta musical about a Black queer man’s self-perception in relation to his art, is radical. And I definitely mean that as a compliment.
This musical, a production of Page 73, Playwrights Horizons and Woolly Mammoth Theater Company, forgoes the commercial niceties and digestible narratives of many Broadway shows, delivering a story that’s searing and softhearted, uproarious and disquieting.
“A Strange Loop,” which opened Tuesday night, isn’t just the musical I saw in the packed Lyceum Theater a few evenings ago; it’s also the musical Usher (Jaquel Spivey), a 25-year-old usher at the Broadway production of “The Lion King,” is writing right in front of us.
He’s facing a few hurdles, namely his intrusive thoughts, embodied by the same six actors who originated the roles in the 2019 Off Broadway premiere: L Morgan Lee, James Jackson Jr., John-Michael Lyles, John-Andrew Morrison, Jason Veasey and Antwayn Hopper. They give voice to his anxieties of being a plus-size Black queer man, his alcoholic father’s constant denigration and his mother’s pleas to stop running “up there in the homosexsh’alities” and produce a wholesome gospel play instead.
Through scenes that move between Usher’s interactions with the outside world, like a phone conversation with his mother or a hookup, and a constant congress with his most devastating notions of himself, “A Strange Loop” pulls off an amazing feat: condensing a complex idea, full of paradoxes and abstractions, into the form of a Broadway musical.