Michael R. Jackson’s meta-musical follows a young artist at war with a host of demons — not least of which, the punishing thoughts in his own head — in an attempt to capture and understand his own strange loop. The show premiered on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre in April 2022 and won Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical at the 75th Tony Awards.
Usher is a black, queer writer, working as an usher for The Lion King. He spends every intermission— and most of his life —fantasizing about the show he’s trying to write: a piece about a black, queer writer, working a day job he hates while writing his original musical. That endless loop gives the musical its name.
The musical isn't a traditional show; it shares a structure with Stephen Sondheim's Company, as the scenes are non-chronological vignettes that centre on one character's internal journey – a confusing concept.
Usher is the only real character here. All the others are extensions of the protagonist, personifications of his inner thoughts (played by Sharlene Hector, Nathan Armarkwei-Laryea, Yeukayi Ushe, Tendai Humphrey Sitima, Danny Bailey and Eddie Elliott). These include Usher’s Daily Self-Loathing and his Supervisor of Sexual Ambivalence. Thoughts are often self-critical, 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 Tyler Perry, and Usher’s parents. “If you loved me, you wouldn’t be gay” and ‘The Bible says homosexuality is worse than murder,’ parents tell Usher, pushing him into further isolation and loneliness.
Making his impressive West End debut, Kyle Ramar Freeman reprises the lead role he played on Broadway – the tender, vulnerable, powerful Usher. The limit of the musical is the music. For me, it has a book stronger than the score. Except for the final ballad, the songs are repetitive and mostly forgettable.
Throughout, elaborate staging and choreography allow each performer to shimmer with individuality.
A Strange Loop is an authentic, complex and irreverent musical. It affirms that we all deserve the right to be seen, embraced, and loved without being asked to water ourselves down.
It runs until 9 September. Tickets from £20 (exclusive prices): here.