With eleven mentions at the Tonys Awards and two resounding victories – best new musical and best libretto –, A Strange Loop, the last work presented on Broadway as part of the theatrical season which has just ended, turned out to be the unexpected surprise. Especially since more sparkling pieces such as SIX: The Musical, GM Where Paradise Square had already received unanimous critical acclaim. But as its title suggests, Broadway experiences some strange last-minute reversals, and such was the case with this unexpected musical, a celebration of “gay life” – which might in fact explain the reason for its success. .
Broadway has known other musicals featuring homosexuals (La Cage aux Folles for example, or the recent revival of Company in which a couple of friends of the main character, Bobbie, who were originally heterosexual, had become homosexual). But it’s a well-known thing: Broadway theater welcomes new ideas and free spirits in an environment conducive to freedom of expression.
Conceived and written by Michael R. Jackson (no relation to the singer of the same name), himself a homosexual and accomplished creator already recognized by multiple awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in 2020, A Strange Loop is the story of a 26-year-old young man, Usher, “black, obese and gay”, usher in a theater of Broadway, who dreams of writing a musical about a young 26-year-old young man, “black, obese and gay”, who dreams of writing a musical, etc. – the “loop”, the loop of the title. But nothing seems easy for this unfortunate beset by psychological disorders linked to his own creation – which are schizophrenic – or confronted by problems emanating from the environment in which he finds himself. As a colleague observed to him, “Kissing is an essential way of life in the theater world. »
Despite being gay, Usher is unsure of his true sexual inclinations. After a childhood marked by the influence of a castrating mother, he now wants to assert himself. In a gesture of defiance, he tries to satisfy his personal instincts and his sexual urges by entering what is known as “the sex market”, although he has realized that life does not It is nothing but an illusion, a strange inversion when one considers that “the fact that one can recognize that it is an illusion confirms its existence”.
Undecided and easily convinced that he is a good for nothing, Usher receives comments and criticism from his six advisers, The Thoughts (the Ideas), a product of his imagination, who control his every move. He will achieve his goals, but in a still uncertain way, when a spectator of the theater where he works comes to ask him if he intends to remain in doubt and how long the show will end. He will also have had to make a long journey strewn with conflicts with his parents who disapprove of the subject of the musical comedy he is writing; with his agent trying to introduce him to director Tyler Perry; with her doctor who encourages her to have sex more often; and with people he meets but creates from scratch, including this man in the metro with whom he gradually engages in a conversation tinged with sexual advances but who replies that he is only a another figment of his imagination.
All this is expressed in songs which are rather banal and which really do not catch, also written (lyrics and music) by Michael R. Jackson. Note especially the stereotypes and clichés that abound, giving this obviously sensitive and creative black man a relief which, as it is presented, is not representative of the place that many blacks of his level occupy today in the society. In this respect and as he is portrayed, Usher evokes a little the character of Stepin Fetchit and the stigma born of the comedies made in the 1930s and 1940s, that is, this black man without much intelligence who allows himself to be manipulated like a nobody by white people who find it amusing.
It must be recognized all the same that the cast (seven actors and actresses who embody The Thoughts as well as other male and female characters) is excellent, under the direction of Stephen Brackett and the choreography, a tad daring due to Raja Feather Kelly, convince.
In these times of Gay Pride on the one hand and, on the other hand, of the contributions made by many Blacks in multiple spheres of our current life, particularly in the artistic world, the idea of giving a voice to a Black, even “obese and gay” and an artist to boot, and to make a show that is an ode to the LGBTQI+ movement, seemed judicious. But if the intentions were good, A Strange Loop projects a negative image of black people in general and gay or trans black people in particular. There is no doubt that this musical is in its place on Broadway where, as Cole Porter would have said: “Anything goes”… But from there to awarding it the Tony for the best musical comedy”?!
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A Strange Loop – Looking Backstage