This was another show that you would be hard found to guess what the musical is about based purely in its title. I have to be honest when I first hear the title ‘A Strange Loop’ thought it would posses a story similar to ‘Groundhog Day’ or ‘Christmas Every Day’ where the characters live physically live the same day over and over again with them essentially trying to break the chain, while this wasn’t completely wrong it’s more about a mental battle that occurs almost daily for lgbt+ people in religious families which is only exaggerated when those individuals are of ethnic background. Despite the real and serious issues it tackles it maintains a constant sense of campiness and energy that makes a joy to listen to. I was surprised that ‘a strange loop’ was released over a year ago and I had yet to hear about it as it is the type of music that I love, something with a sense of camp but also dealing with important issues are my favourite types of shows.
This story follows the life of Usher (played wonderfully in this production by Larry Owens) who is a black queer writer who is stuck in a day-time job that he hates and simultaneously he is writing a musical about a black, queer writer who is working a day-time job he hates while writing his own musical (if that makes sense.) This is the first loop that appears in this show as it’s a show within a show and on its own would justify the title but that’s just the start! The character of Usher is a powerful person who is full of joy and optimism that really helps pull the audience through the more dark moments in the show. The vocal range and sense of joy instantly made me think of the performer Titus Burges (who is known for playing Titus in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and many broadway productions including the little mermaid) and would love to see him cover the songs in this show as I believe he suits the character and would be able to perform this part excellently. The show deals with many super important issues such as the representations of POC, lgbt+ people and family relationships. Throughout the soundtrack there are references to Tyler Perry, Whitney Huston, 12 years a slave and the colour purple all of which are historically interpreted as historically black ‘things’ and this show even subverts the ideas these typically ‘black’ iconographies create(d).
On top of this, it is also a fantastic representation for LGBT people and the issues they face. In particular, Usher is a gay man whose family share strict religious views and how this cause conflicts. I believe Usher himself has a belief in a god and this causes an internal conflict within himself also. This inclusion is fantastic for the representation for gay Christians that you will barely see in modern literature and it’s great to see. Obviously, all these themes are very mature issues to discuss but ‘A strange loop’ also contains implied and uttered strong language as well as racial slurs and sexual references with one song, in particular, being difficult to just listen to. This makes means that this musical is suited to a very mature audience and in no way shape or form should a young audience listen to the songs from this show.
The opening sing is this musical is called the intermission song which I have to say when I first looked at the song titled I was confused. This song allows the musical to be circular in its nature and creates another loop. Within the number itself, the ensemble can be heard chanting usher on top of one another which is obviously very chaotic but creates yet another loop. I really enjoy musicals opening with ensemble numbers as it gives everyone a chance to showcase their talent. This musical explores the conflict in Ushers own mind which is perfectly conveyed in the song ‘Today’ which contains voices portraying his external thoughts and the number itself was crafted in a very clear and understandable way. The song ‘inner white girl’ discusses how Usher believes he has a white girl personality hidden inside himself as he explores the things white girls can do but black boys cant. This was a very striking song as I never realised the true extent of privilege we take for granted. Despite this, it is a very energetic song and is very fun to listen to. Probably my favourite song in this musical was ‘exile to gay town’ which is a satirical look into gay online dating and the prejudices on such sites (for example no fat, no fem, no Asians.) I have always heard that these sites are rampant with people using the guise of ‘preferences’ to say potentially racist things but this song truly demonstrated how unacceptable the lgbt+ community can be and still is. At the same time, this so is very upbeat and comical which truly highlights the issues while making it an enjoyable song.
The song ‘writing a gospel play’ is a very clever inclusion in this musical as it details the author writing a gospel play (which is yet another loop within the story) and the title is the action which makes sense with the overarching narrative. It talks about how people assume black people are writing a gospel play but documents the struggle Usher experiences. They have cleverly developed this song to include bible references to app up the religious influences in this musical and truly highlights the apparent conflict between the LGBT community and the church. I have to admit even I found the song ‘Inwood daddy’ very difficult to listen to due to the violent and rapey lyrics. There is a lot of strong and racial language that made me wince throughout and while I understand what this is portraying, it was difficult to just listen to so I can only imagine how uncomfortable the audience would be when it is staged. ‘Precious little dream/AIDS is gods punishment’ is a very emotional song which talks about how after coming out to his family, Usher receives a religious scolding by his mother and is rejected. This is obviously portraying the experience of many young lgbt+ people go through. It is also seven minutes long making it one of the longest numbers on the show which only exaggerated the heartbreak and emotionality of the song.
Overall, this is one of the most important pieces of musical theatre that I have ever listened to! It explores ideas around modern-day racism, coming out, sexual violence and religion while containing some fun songs throughout. I encourage everyone to listen to this musical as you will discover that racist and homophobic ideas are still maintained today to the extent that will shock you. I would rate this musical as 5 out of 5 stars!