A Strange Loop is a story about an usher at a Broadway theatre writing a musical about an usher who is writing a musical about an usher – you get the picture – it’s a strange loop.
This show was written extraordinarily by ex-usher Michael R. Jackson, who is now a Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner for this show. The protagonist in this show, like Jackson, happens to be queer, very large, young (25) and black (played by Kyle Ramar-Freeman), and he is only known by usher in this show, left alone with his thoughts (six of them played by various actors).
A Strange Loop starts hilariously enough pushing all of the buttons of the life of a horny young gay black man living in Manhattan, his sex life, a pickup on Grindr (a queasy scene where usher bottoms for a daddy type) and a visit to his doctor (who excruciatingly tells him to go get laid no matter what) and, more realistically, hit on by a hot Black guy on the subway… only for it be revealed that he’s actually a sneery white guy who isn’t even interested in him.
But then the show delves dark and deep, and preachy, when his parents show tell him about the dangers of being gay and catching HIV, and if that message wasn’t searing enough we get a preacher and his gospel singers who extoll the fact that being gay means getting AIDS, and to hit the mail in the coffin a huge HIV+ sign comes down from the ceiling just to pound the message – that if you’re gay you’re going to die of this disease, no matter what.
I really don’t understand how this show won Best Musical at the Tony Awards – perhaps because it was edgy and unlike anything anyone has ever seen? To be fair, the cast in the London production are fantastic…with Nathan Amarkwei Laryea as ’Thought 2,’ while Freeman owns the stage once the curtain goes up – he’s a born natural. I would’ve like to have seen more monologues dealing with theatregoers at the theatre where he works – now that would’ve been a fun show! The songs, which along with the script, start out funny but as the show delves deeper and darker the laughs (at least for me) came to a halt, and I really don’t know how mainstream audiences have taken to this show.
Photo by Marc Brenner