‘A Strange Loop’ theater review

‘A Strange Loop’ theater review

Review by Elyse Trevers

A young overweight black gay man named Usher is writing a musical about a young overweight black gay man writing a musical. Dressed in a gaudy red uniform, he works as an usher making announcements for “The Lion King.” Usher writes about difficulties dealing with the world when you are “in a fat, black, queer body”

Behind him are six doorways, each personifying the negative thoughts in his head. The show is the award-winning musical “A Strange Loop” and the exhilarating opening number grabs the audience immediately. The ‘emotionally- autobiographical” show with book, music and lyrics by Michael R. Jackson won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize and the 2020 Drama Desk Award for Best Musical.

I was scheduled to review the show weeks ago but twice was notified by the press agents that the lead performer was out. It is said that the third time’s the charm, so I scheduled again but was taken aback when someone near me mentioned that the lead was out for our performance. (Too bad because there were several Tony voters in the audience.) Performing as Usher was understudy Kyle Ramar Freeman who was superb.

Recently stars like Hugh Jackman spoke out about how terrific understudies are and anyone watching Freeman perform is in for a treat.

He’s onstage the entire time and sings beautifully. More importantly, he connects with the audience who cares about him. As a voter, I would have given Freeman this year’s Drama Desk award had he been nominated. It’s a very impressive performance.

There’s so much to love about “A Strange Loop” – the music, the dancing (choreography by Raja Feather Kelly,) the incredible talents of the performers and even the touching premise itself. The awards and some word of mouth have created a buzz about the show.

Usher is writing a musical and not only must he fight off the nagging negative voices in his head, he must contend with the disparaging reactions from his family. They hold Tyler Perry up as a role model and his very name becomes an anathema to Usher. To compound matters, his agent offers him the chance to write a gospel musical for Perry.

“A Strange Loop” is up for the Tony Award for Best Musical. Yet Tony voters are business savvy. The theater needs mainstream tourist audiences to thrive and this is not at all a tourist-friendly show. For one thing, the language is vulgar. Not just a word or two but there’s a constant barrage of off-color language. The language doesn’t have to be clean if it serves a purpose but there are times in “ A Strange Loop” when the language is unrelenting. The thoughts constantly use the N-word and its overuse can make audience members uncomfortable.
There’s a simulated gay sex scene and I don’t envision the matinee ladies or out-of-towners enjoying this show. (In contrast, “The Music Man” didn’t get ‘love’ from many of the critics but it is the hottest selling ticket this season and you can take your grandma and the kids to see it.)

My colleague was quite unhappy with the performance and said if he was on the aisle, he would have walked out. Although I appreciated some of the creativity and talent in ”A Strange Loop” I can certainly understand his feelings. Language and sex in the theater is fine when appropriate.

I’m constantly asked for show recommendations – sadly, “A Strange Loop” would not be one of them.

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