Michael R. Jackson’s Brilliant Musical Explores Being Fat, Black, and Gay

Jaquel Spivey in A Strange Loop

“A Strange Loop” is about Usher (Jaquel Spivey), who is a Broadway usher, counting down intermissions at “The Lion King.” He’s a proxy for Jackson because Usher is also an aspiring musical theater writer working on a show about an aspiring musical theater writer. It’s a story, inside a story, inside a story. A peek into the mirror’s receding reflection, and he’s deeply troubled about being fat, gay, and African American. Usher is his own worst enemy. No one can “hate” him as profoundly as he “hates” himself. His inner demons and nagging thoughts present themselves on stage as part of a chorus of six (all gifted) who embody the attitudes that shape him, including introducing us to his religious mother and confused father.

Choreographed by Raja Feather Kelly, he keeps the cast busy, and the audience entertained. Although there aren’t any remarkable period costumes, what costume designer Montana Levi Blanco gets right is everything. I love how fearless Jackson is because it takes guts to be vulnerable. He peels back the layers of his own experience to face his issues. And the humor (wicked) highlights the points in ways most would never have imagined. Jackson’s vulnerability is highlighted throughout the show. He takes us along for the ride as he ventures into the dating apps, where he is rejected because Usher’s told he’s too Black, too fat, and too femme by many men.

“A Strange Loop” lives in an authentic place even though truth can be subjective. Like Jackson, his play is crackling with life, and like the creator, his first musical stamps a triumph — a proverbial “gold star.” One of the things that made me laugh is Jackson’s parody of Tyler Perry. And in the musical’s gospel climax (aimed to poke more fun at Billionaire, Perry), there is an intelligent self-awareness about the responsibility of what it means to be an African-American creator.

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