As A strange loop Nearing the end of its Broadway run, creator Michael R.
The mogul is pilloried throughout the show, as the main character, Usher, first rejects an assignment to write a gospel play for Perry and then explodes the concept by creating caricatures of the Perry characters in a family drama, complete with a gospel chorus singing. AIDS is God’s punishment. Jackson said he’s spoken to Perry on the phone and maintains a “sweet, low-key relationship” with her, but isn’t sure he wants to see it through.
“I told them, ‘If it stresses you out, don’t come,'” Jackson told the audience at a talkback held after the show Tuesday and hosted by Trevor Noah.
Outside of Perry’s storyline, the musical focuses on Usher as he struggles to write about his life and integrate the complexities of his identity into a “big, black and queer” Broadway show. His writing process is complicated by his own intrusive ideas, which are brought to life on stage by an ensemble of six actors.
The musical opened on Broadway in April 2022 and is now scheduled to end its run on January 15. As the cast nears the end of the run, Jaquell Spivey, who has been playing Usher since the musical’s pre-Broadway tryout in 2021, said he’s learned to lean more toward his character’s uncertain fate.
Spivey said he believes Usher reaches a certain resolution at the end of the musical, a moment in which he finally embraces some of his imperfections and appears to finish the music he’s been trying to write. But now, Spivey said he wants to leave the question of his character’s success more open-ended.
“At the end of the show I want the audience to wonder what will happen next. I don’t want you to think he’s made up his mind,” Spivey said.
Much of this pivot came after Spivey learned to separate the show, which won the 2022 Tony Award for Best Musical, from its accolades and Usher’s role from Jackson. Jackson, who shares several biographical characteristics with the lead character, won the Pulitzer Prize for the play. A strange loop, This makes the character’s success seem inevitable.
“I honestly had to take Michael out of the equation after a long time. What happens if he doesn’t win the Pulitzer? What if he doesn’t get nominated for a Grammy? He is still worthy. What happens if people don’t like the show? He still has merit,” said Spivey, who has been playing Asher since 2021 and is Tony-nominated for the role.
The open-endedness is the reason Noah keeps coming back, saying he’s seen the show four times.
“Every time I come, I feel like I’m focusing on something else and a different side of the play is almost revealed to me,” Noah said. “It is radical. It is layered. It’s complicated.”
And that’s what Jackson said he tried to create in a show that takes on themes like religion and homophobia, racism, sexism and body shaming within the gay community and black male identity. The process of seeing the character express herself on stage isn’t exactly “liberating” for Jackson, she said, but seeing the performance draw audiences and offer different interpretations is a valuable artistic experience.
“To be able to go back to it and see that it’s still working, that it’s still playing itself, that’s the most exciting thing for me,” Jackson said.