In a full circle-event (apt for a musical titled A Strange Loop), the writer of the Tony award-winning show, Michael R. Jackson, starred in his own story for performances on January 7 and 8. Just one week shy of the production's January 15 closing date, non-COVID related illnesses nearly led to a cancellation of performances this weekend, but with only a handful of performances left, the show must go on.
Jackson hosted a "concert version" of the musical in lieu of a regularly staged performance, with himself starring as the character of Usher. In curtain call videos, a music stand with sheet music is positioned onstage, as well as a set of folding chairs for cast members, indicating that the show was performed seated as an intimate reading. After the performance, he addressed the audience, stating: "I used to joke that I'd only do this as a once-in-a-lifetime, benefit-only thing, and here we are now."
The Pulitzer-prize winning A Strange Loop follows Usher, a young, Black, gay theatre writer grappling with his toxic inner thoughts while trying to write a musical about a young, Black, gay theatre writer grappling with his toxic inner thought while trying to write a musical about... and on and on. Jackson stepping in is poignant because A Strange Loop is based on his own experiences, when he was a struggling musical theatre writer.
Of course, no performance comes without its critics, and some posts online after the show complained about the last-minute move, with one tweeting they'd rather have had the performance cancelled than see a "lazy concert" in place of a regular show. Jackson responded with grace, quote-tweeting the comment and saying: "'Some people stand together. Me, well I stand apart,' was the lyric that hit hardest for me personally when I sang them in front of 900 people yesterday. And while I have many flaws and remain very much a work in progress, I am 23 year-old Michael's wildest dreams. My deepest thanks to everyone who came out yesterday."
As the closing date approaches, it is unclear when principal Jaquel Spivey will return to the role, but for now, audiences are in for a strange loop of performances...in the best of ways!
The Broadway production of A Strange Loop opened April 26 following a 2019 world premiere at Playwrights Horizons and a 2021 pre-Broadway engagement at Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, D.C. Upon closing, the work will have played 301 regular performances and 13 previews.
Jaquel Spivey leads the cast as Usher, joined by Antwayn Hopper, James Jackson, Jr., L Morgan Lee, John-Michael Lyles, John-Andrew Morrison, and Jason Veasey, all reprising their performances from the Off-Broadway production.
Stephen Brackett (Be More Chill) directs the production, with choreography by Raja Feather Kelly (Suffs), scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado, costumes by Montana Levi Blanco, lighting design by Jen Schreiver, sound design by Drew Levy, hair, wig, and makeup design by Cookie Jordan, music supervision by Rona Siddiqui, orchestrations by Charlie Rosen, vocal arrangements by Jackson, and casting by The Telsey Office's Destiny Lilly. Tomoko Akaboshi is music coordinator, and Chelsea Pace is intimacy director.