Review: ‘A Strange Loop’ makes a remarkable Broadway debut

NEW YORK ( Associated Press) — There’s a cosmic delicacy to the fact that “A Strange Loop” landed mere yards from one of its most succulent goals on Broadway.

In the new musical, opening Tuesday at the Lyceum Theater, we meet the character Usher, a grieving playwright hooked up as an usher in “The Lion King,” just 7th at the Miscoff Theater in real life. Playing in the avenue. If the wind was right, Usher might have been able to break a rock and kill Rafiki.

Every now and then — sadly, very rarely — we find something that completely pushes the look of musical theater while taking a completely unforgettable, unknown journey. Add Michael R. Jackson’s “A Strange Loop” The list includes “Fun Home” and “Angels in America”, both of which echo here. Like them, it is surprising, challenging and terrifying.

Jackson’s 2020 Pulitzer Prize drama winner is a theater meta-journey—a show about a black gay man writing a tune about a black gay man. That show is also known as “A Strange Loop”.

Poor Usher is haunted by a Greek chorus of voices – his thoughts as well as homophobic family members – who beat, bite and scold him. “It’s Your Daily Self-Loathing!” says one. “I had some time to kill so I thought I’d remind you how useless you really are.”

Jackal Spivey, in his Broadway debut, plays Usher with such hang-dog and sweet poignancy that audience members can require supreme self-restraint not to go on stage and hug him. He grapples with a toxic stew of romantic rejection and artistic self-doubt, from shame to the fear of being a race traitor to his secret love of white girl music.

Along the ride are six sensationalists who play the chorus: Antwen Hopper, L. Morgan Lee, John-Michael Lyles, James Jackson Jr., John-Andrew Morrison and Jason Vesey. Stephen Brackett’s direction is crisp and meticulously varied over 100 minutes and King Feather Kelly’s superb choreography includes everything from rocker to gospel.

Jackson, who was a usher in “The Lion King” in real life, is also a songwriter, and he writes 18 songs within the Broadway tradition, a beloved cocktail of rock and R&B, melded harmonies, ballads, and belting. There are sly allusions to their influences, such as “Gaville in Exile”, a riff on “Exile in Guaville” by Liz Phair, who incidentally wrote a song the musical borrowed for its title.

Jackson’s scathing dialogue – “Snatching a guy is like finding affordable housing in this town – there’s a long waiting list and landlords discriminate” – matches in his lyrics: “Why don’t you get me with your white gay Dan Sevgery destroy?”

“The Lion King” is hardly the only target of some mischief. Tyler Perry gets a lot of ribbing for “simple-minded, hacky buffoonery”, Scott Rudin is called off the Broadway stage for the first time and even critics are upset (“He See you write as lazy / don’t mention navel “-gazzy”).

In one of the trickiest scenes, Usher encounters a group of angry exes – Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Whitney Houston and an actor who won the Oscar for the film “Twelve Years a Slave”. represents.

This is a musical that Ann-Wood uses, then apologizes for and then continues to use it, gently mocks #MeToo, uses internet jargon, portrays a deeply sad sex scene and is extremely impure. Jackson’s sly wit is certainly not politically correct, taking jabs left and right. In one scene, an insider presents a critique of his screenplay: “Listen, you need to make this about slavery or police violence so that your audience’s allies have some gap to catch.”

But this homophobia is, after all, the ultimate goal of “A Strange Loop,” and Usher tries to go back to the beginning—his family—before the loop can be closed. His father is out of reach but his mother offers some hope. Can writing him a scornful Tyler Perry-style gospel drama that explains how anti-queer ugliness—in which the chorus sings “AIDS is God’s Punishment”—softens his heart? Will anything lead to his self-acceptance? stay tuned.

However Jackson makes a terrible mistake. Usher’s sufferings call into question the purpose of the play: “No one cares about a writer struggling to write / They’ll say it’s too repetitive / And so ambitious.”

They are wrong in every sense. May “A Strange Loop” run as long as “The Lion King”.

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Mark Kennedy is here http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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