Two songs and a discussion of ‘A Strange Loop’ at NYC’s Guggenheim Museum in advance of its Broadway debut and cast album release

In 2020, Michael R. Jackson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for A Strange Loop, his cutting-edge critically acclaimed “Big, Black & Queer-ass” musical that had its world premiere in May 2019, at Off-Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons in association with Page 73 Productions. That season it also won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, five Drama Desk Awards including Best Musical, six Outer Critics Circle Awards including Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical, two Lucille Lortel Awards, two Obie awards, and an Off-Broadway Alliance Award. Following its phenomenal reception in NYC, the show had a successful run at DC’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in December 2021, and this month it will be making its Broadway debut at the Lyceum Theatre, with previews beginning on April 6, and opening night scheduled for Tuesday, April 26. For tickets, ranging from $49-$179, call (212) 239-6200, or go online.

As part of its 2021-22 season, Works & Process at the Guggenheim – a performing arts series of artist-driven programs blending performance highlights with insightful discussions (held in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Peter B. Lewis Theater at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, NYC) – welcomed Jackson, choreographer Raja Feather Kelly, director Stephen Brackett, and music director Rona Siddiqui on Sunday, April 3, at 7:30 pm, in advance of the Broadway premiere, to discuss their creative process with moderator Peter Marks (chief drama critic for The Washington Post). The entertaining behind-the-scenes look traced the origins of A Strange Loop from 2002, when Jackson was a student in the graduate program at NYU, through its twenty-year development, his association and obvious camaraderie with Siddiqui, Kelly, and Brackett, its casting, and the inherent messages the team wants to deliver to its audiences and the inspiration it hopes to provide for kids.

In addition to the engaging conversation, the hour-long program featured two blockbuster songs performed by the multi-talented Jackson – “Inner White Girl” (with Siddiqui on piano) and “Memory Song” (with Jackson accompanying himself on piano) – that encapsulated the show’s predominant theme of a young Black queer theater artist grappling with his own self-perception. Among Jackson’s revealing comments were that, although the work was derived from personal experiences, it is not autobiographical but emotionally resonant, with a mix of fact and fiction; the personifications of the thoughts in the lead character’s head are not intended to be one-dimensional attitudes but to show a fully-rounded development; and the greatest personal validation Jackson received from being awarded the Pulitzer Prize was the acknowledgment of the amount of time art takes – twenty years for A Strange Loop, and he’s not stopping, he’s still giving everything to the Broadway production.

And there’s more big news for fans of the show. Last week, Ghostlight Records and Yellow Sound Label announced their plans for an original Broadway cast recording of A Strange Loop, which you can pre-save now on Spotify. The recording will take place on Sunday, April 10, for a release date to be announced later this season, and will feature Jaquel Spivey, in his Broadway debut, as Usher, joined by original cast members Antwayn Hopper (Thought 6), L Morgan Lee (Thought 1), John-Michael Lyles (Thought 3), James Jackson, Jr. (Thought 2), John-Andrew Morrison (Thought 4), and Jason Veasey (Thought 5), with orchestrations by Charlie Rosen and music direction and supervision Siddiqui.

Photo by Deb Miller.

Fans of Michael R. Jackson can see him again on Monday, April 4, when he returns to Works & Process at the Guggenheim with members of the artistic team of Federal Hall: The Democracy Project for performance highlights and a discussion of their collaboration, moderated by Adam Greenfield, Artistic Director of Playwrights Horizons. Written by Tanya Barfield, Lisa D’Amour, Larissa FastHorse, Melissa James Gibson, Michael R. Jackson, and Bruce Norris, directed by Tamilla Woodard, produced by Lynn Goldner, and commissioned by the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy, the new play is a perspective-shifting odyssey through the 527 days when New York City was the nation’s first capital, the presidency was still new, the slave trade was in debate, and the United States Constitution (and the rights of all this land’s inhabitants) hung in the balance. Slated to premiere at Federal Hall National Memorial this spring, the work probes the ideas and ideals, flaws and contradictions of our democracy – a Constitutional experiment that began at the historic site in 1789. For tickets to the Guggenheim preview event (priced at $1-35), click here.

‘A Strange Loop’ at Woolly Mammoth is a knockout smash (review of the DC production by John Stoltenberg)

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Deb Miller
Deb Miller (PhD, Art History) is the Senior Correspondent and Editor for New York City, where she grew up seeing every show on Broadway. She is an active member of the Outer Critics Circle and served for more than a decade as a Voter, Nominator, and Judge for the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre. Outside of her home base in NYC, she has written and lectured extensively on the arts and theater throughout the world (including her many years in Amsterdam, London, and Venice, and her extensive work and personal connections with Andy Warhol and his circle) and previously served as a lead writer for Stage Magazine, Phindie, and Central Voice.


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