Everything you need to know about 'A Strange Loop' on Broadway
Don't go in circles looking for information about this new Broadway musical — find it all right here.
After premiering at Playwrights Horizons in 2019 and making a pit stop in Washington, D.C., Michael R. Jackson's A Strange Loop has circled back to New York for its Broadway debut. Billed as a “Big, Black, & Queer-Ass American Musical,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning show centers on Usher, a Black, queer musical theatre writer (created by Jackson, a Black, queer musical theatre writer) who's working on an original show about a Black, queer musical theatre writer. That endless loop gives the musical its name.
To succeed as an artist, however, Usher has to overcome the barrage of self-deprecating thoughts in his mind. Jackson buoys his story of struggling with self-doubt with plenty of comedy and catchy songs, which made A Strange Loop a viral hit even before hitting Broadway. This self-referential — not autobiographical, as Jackson is quick to point out — musical isn't a traditional show; it shares a structure with Stephen Sondheim's Company, as the scenes are non-chronological vignettes that center on one character's internal journey. But if you're willing to break out of the box — er, the loop — of traditional musical theatre and see A Strange Loop, you'll see a lively story that anyone struggling with self-doubt can relate to.
Learn more about the history, fun facts, and performance location and times of A Strange Loop on Broadway below.
What is A Strange Loop about?
A Strange Loop centers on a man named Usher, whose day job is working as a Broadway usher at The Lion King. He doesn't like his job; he wants to be a theatre writer, and he's working on an original musical. He, A Black, queer writer, is writing his musical about a Black, queer writer writing a musical about a Black, queer writer writing a musical, ad infinitum. He struggles to advance in his artistic career, in part because there are few opportunities afforded to a Black, queer, overweight man, and in part because he cannot escape his own self-destructive, self-flagellating thoughts. His thoughts are personified in the musical by a six-person, all-Black and queer ensemble.
He does soon receive a writing opportunity: to ghostwrite a new gospel play for Tyler Perry. Usher is reluctant (and his thoughts deride the job), but he takes it to get his foot in the door and to possibly earn the support of his religious family, who don't approve of his sexuality and often tell him that he should be writing Tyler Perry-esque material. A Strange Loop sees him confronting his own self-doubt as he works on the gig in the hopes of achieving something more with his career, and overcoming his difficult relationship with his sexuality and body image.
Where is A Strange Loop playing?
A Strange Loop is at the Lyceum Theatre, located at 149 W 45th Street, between Seventh and Sixth Avenues. The Lyceum is the oldest continually operating Broadway theatre, having been built in 1903. The theatre most often houses plays; only a handful of musicals have played the venue, including Be More Chill and The Scottsboro Boys.
How long is A Strange Loop?
A Strange Loop runs 1 hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission. This is a shorter running time than a standard a Broadway musical; most tend to run between two and three hours long, with either a 15- or 20-minute intermission between Acts 1 and 2. Come From Away is another show that has the same runtime as A Strange Loop.
What days is A Strange Loop playing?
A Strange Loop plays eight performances a week at the Lyceum Theatre. The show typically runs Tuesday to Sunday, with two performances on Saturdays and Sundays. A Strange Loop does not perform on Monday. For the complete performance schedule and up-to-date weekly show times, please visit the A Strange Loop page to learn more.
When did A Strange Loop premiere?
A Strange Loop had been in the works for more than a decade before its 2019 professional premiere, but the show had a meteoric rise to fame from there. The Off-Broadway premiere was a critical hit, and the release of the cast album online let the show reach an even wider, and equally adoring, audience. Rather than looping back around to obscurity, A Strange Loop has been on a straight-line trajectory upward.
- 2002-2005: Michael R. Jackson writes a monologue called "Why I Can’t Get Work" during his last year as an undergraduate playwriting student at New York University. The monologue, which centered on a Black, gay man wondering why his life was terrible while wandering around New York. Right after finishing undergrad, he entered NYU's Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program, where he wrote “Memory Song,” the eventual penultimate number of A Strange Loop.
- 2006-2007: Jackson combined the "Why I Can’t Get Work" monologue with some songs and presented it as a one-act, one-man show called Fast Food Town. It played for one night only at Ars Nova and "twenty people came, two people walked out," Jackson told Slate. Fast Food Town was the first draft of what would eventually expand into A Strange Loop.
- 2017: A Strange Loop had its first developmental workshop with Musical Theatre Factory, a nonprofit organization to support new theatre. The workshop was staged at MTF's warehouse above the Drama Bookshop's former location in Times Square, near Port Authority.
- May-July 2019: A Strange Loop had its official world premiere off Broadway at Playwrights Horizons. Larry Owens, who led the workshop as Usher, starred in the production, which received positive reviews.
- September 2019: The A Strange Loop Off-Broadway cast recording is released for streaming online and becomes an internet hit. The album peaked at number 6 on the Billboard Cast Albums chart.
- 2020: A Strange Loop receives prizes from multiple major Off-Broadway awards ceremonies, and Jackson wins the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his work.
- 2021: A pre-Broadway production opens at Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, D.C. to critical acclaim.
- 2022: A Strange Loop premieres on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre with the cast and creative team from the D.C. production.
Who wrote A Strange Loop?
Michael R. Jackson wrote the book, music, and lyrics for A Strange Loop. A Strange Loop is his most well-known show, as it earned him tons of awards and made him the first openly gay Black writer, and the first Black musical writer, to win the Pulitzer Prize. He's also only the 10th musical writer to do so. A Strange Loop is semiautobiographical, as Jackson, like Usher, is a Black and queer male musical writer who has struggled with many of the same artistic insecurities as his character.
His previous work includes writing the book and lyrics for Only Children, presented at NYU's Frederick Loewe Theatre; writing the lyrics and co-writing the book for Teeth, a musical adaptation of the same-named film; and writing the song cycle The Kids on the Lawn for The New York Times Magazine.
A Strange Loop characters
All the main characters in A Strange Loop are extensions of the protagonist, Usher, as they're personifications of his inner thoughts. These thoughts, however, all do double duty as other people in Usher's life, including family members, celebrities, and more. Here are the major characters in A Strange Loop.
- Usher: The main character of A Strange Loop, who begrudgingly works a day job as a Broadway usher but wants to be a writer. The whole show takes place inside his head, with his thoughts narrating the action. Written by Jackson, a Black, queer man, Usher is a Black, queer man who's writing a musical about a Black, queer man (the cycle continues) in his free time. However, he's not a direct representation of Jackson.
- The Thoughts: Thoughts 1-6 compose the rest of the A Strange Loop cast. They're personifications of Usher's inner thoughts, which are often self-critical. Fittingly, the Thoughts are candid and raucous, and they don't hold back from biting commentary about the heteronormative, white world surrounding Usher and the decisions he makes. Each of the thoughts also transforms into other characters for scenes here and there, like Usher's family and Tyler Perry. Like Usher, the entire ensemble of Thoughts are Black and queer, though they are of various genders.
A Strange Loop songs
Most of the songs in A Strange Loop are sung by Usher and his thoughts, and they narrate his complex inner feelings toward his day job, the musical he's writing, and his own self. The musical owes a lot of its widespread success to the songs, as the Off-Broadway cast album was released for streaming and became a viral hit among fans who couldn't make it to New York. The tracklist includes a mix of funny songs, like "Inner White Girl," and serious ones, like "AIDS Is God's Punishment," which pushes back against HIV/AIDS-related stigma and honors a real-life friend of Jackson's who died from HIV. Below are all the songs in A Strange Loop.
- "Intermission Song" – Usher, Thoughts
- "Today" – Usher, Thoughts
- "We Wanna Know" – Thoughts
- "Inner White Girl" – Usher, Thoughts
- "Didn't Want Nothin'" – Thought 5, Thoughts
- "Exile in Gayville" – Usher, Thoughts
- "Second Wave" – Usher
- "Tyler Perry Writes Real Life" – Usher, Thought 3, Thoughts
- "Writing a Gospel Play" – Usher, Thoughts
- "A Sympathetic Ear" – Thought 1
- "Inwood Daddy" – Usher, Thought 6, Thoughts
- "Boundaries" – Usher
- "Periodically" – Thought 4, Usher
- "Didn't Want Nothin' Reprise" – Thought 5
- "Precious Little Dream / AIDS Is God's Punishment" – Usher, Thoughts
- "Memory Song" – Usher, Thoughts 2-6
- "A Strange Loop" – Usher, Thoughts
What awards has A Strange Loop won?
A Strange Loop was an awards favorite in the Off-Broadway circuit upon its premiere. Even before the show announced a Broadway transfer, A Strange Loop had already racked up plenty of accolades. Here are the major awards A Strange Loop has won so far.
- Pulitzer Prize: Michael R. Jackson won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for A Strange Loop, becoming the 10th musical writer to ever do so. He's also the first Black musical writer and the first openly gay Black writer to win the award.
- Drama Desk Award: A Strange Loop received seven Drama Desk Award nominations and won five: Best Musical, Outstanding Actor in a Musical (for Larry Owens), Outstanding Director of a Musical (for Stephen Brackett), and the Outstanding Music, Lyrics, and Book of a Musical awards.
- Obie Award: A Strange Loop received the 2020 Obie Award for playwriting and a special citation for the work of the entire cast and creative team.
- Lucille Lortel Award: Larry Owens and John-Andrew Morrison won the Best Lead and Featured Actor in a Musical Awards, respectively. A Strange Loop received five additional nominations, including Outstanding Musical.
- Outer Critics Circle Award: A Strange Loop won all six of the Outer Critics Circle Awards it was nominated for. They include Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical, Outstanding Book of a Musical, Outstanding New Score, Outstanding Director of a Musical (for Brackett), Outstanding Choreographer (for Raja Feather Kelly), and Outstanding Actor in a Musical (for Owens).
Major productions of A Strange Loop
A Strange Loop hasn't had tons of productions, but each one in small but mighty group has made waves and gained widespread acclaim. The show has only been performed in the U.S. thus far, but if the show continues to succeed, it could very well go farther. Here are all the major productions of A Strange Loop up to and including its highly anticipated Broadway premiere.
- 2017 workshop: A Strange Loop was developed at the Musical Theatre Factory, a nonprofit organization that hosts early readings and stagings of new musicals. The warehouse where it was first staged was located above the old Drama Bookshop in Times Square, right near Port Authority. Five of the seven cast members from that workshop, including Larry Owens as Usher, would all go on to the Off-Broadway production.
- 2019 Off-Broadway premiere: Playwrights Horizons staged the first professional A Strange Loop production. This production put the musical and Michael R. Jackson's name on the map, winning numerous awards and receiving critical acclaim. John-Michael Lyles replaced Elijah Caldwell as Thought 3, and Jason Veasey replaced Chris White as Thought 5.
- 2021 Washington, D.C. production: The production at D.C.'s Woolly Mammoth Theatre served as the pre-Broadway tryout for A Strange Loop, and it received critical acclaim, too. All the cast members from the Playwrights Horizons productions performed in D.C. except Owens; Jaquel Spivey replaced him as Usher.
- 2022 Broadway production: A Strange Loop makes its Broadway debut in 2022 with the entire cast from the D.C. production. Spivey is making his Broadway debut as Usher, and A Strange Loop joins just over a dozen other musicals to play the Lyceum Theatre in the venue's nearly 120-year history.
Fun facts about A Strange Loop
Did you know that A Strange Loop takes its title from a rock song and a scientific phenomenon, and its wide-ranging influences don't stop there? Here are some facts about A Strange Loop and the relationship of its writer, Michael R. Jackson, to his semiautobiographical main character.
- Multiple figures from history and pop culture appear in Usher's thoughts, joining the Thoughts in giving him pep talks or dressing-downs. Some of these figures include Harriet Tubman, James Baldwin, Whitney Houston, and Tyler Perry. Similarly, A Strange Loop's songs and structure borrows from an eclectic mix of musical influences, from Joni Mitchell to Stephen Sondheim to George C. Wolfe.
- One notable musical influence among them is rock artist Liz Phair, whose song "Strange Loop" inspired the musical's name. A "strange loop" is also a scientific phenomenon, in which a person can move up or down the ranks of a hierarchical system but always ends up at the level they started. This idea calls to how Usher feels stuck in his artistic career and as a Black, gay man who doesn't get as many opportunities as his straight and/or white counterparts.
- Tyler Perry and his work feature heavily in A Strange Loop. Rather than paying homage to Perry, though, Jackson's musical challenges and critiques the way he saw queerness stigmatized in Perry's work. For example, Jackson wrote the song "AIDS Is God’s Punishment" as a direct, satirical response to Perry's Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, which he felt demonized people living with HIV/AIDS, to break down that stigma.
- Besides their professions, Michael R. Jackson shares another thing in common with Usher: the way he's named. Just as Jackson's name brings the internationally famous King of Pop, Michael Jackson, to mind, Usher's name references the chart-topping R&B and pop musician. Jackson did that on purpose.
How to get A Strange Loop tickets
If you missed A Strange Loop upon its New York premiere, don't miss it this time now that it's looped back here for a Broadway premiere. Anyone who's struggled with self-doubt or pursuing their dreams may see themselves in A Strange Loop, but the raucous (adult) comedy and music make A Strange Loop not a dismal experience, but a vibrant, celebratory one, centered on a voice — that of a Black, fat, queer man — seldom seen on stage.
Top image: Jaquel Spivey as Usher in A Strange Loop. (Photo credit: Marc J. Franklin)