Just announced: Michael R. Jackson’s A Strange Loop won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama. When I saw it last June at Playwrights Horizons Off-Broadway, I wrote:
A Strange Loop is a musical about a big, gay black guy who is struggling to write a musical about a big, gay black guy who is struggling….. Michael R. Jackson, the musical’s talented book writer, composer, lyricist and vocal arranger, describes himself as a big, gay black guy; he’s been struggling to write A Strange Loop since grad school.
Whatever your first thoughts are about this dizzying set-up, they’re likely to be expressed in the A Strange Loop itself, which features six performers portraying the inner Thoughts of the big, gay, black musical writer, who is named Usher and works as an usher at “The Lion King.”
“No one cares about a writer who is struggling to write,” sings Usher’s Thought #6 (Antwayne Hopper), followed by:
Thought # 4: They’ll say it’s way too repetitious
Thought #3: And so overly ambitious
Thought #5: Which of course makes them suspicious
Thoughts #3-6: That you think you’re f…ing white”
Trailer for Off-Broadway debut of A Strange Loop from Playwrights Horizon.
The Pulitzer committee described Jackson’s play as “a metafictional musical that tracks the creative process of an artist transforming issues of identity, race, and sexuality that once pushed him to the margins of the cultural mainstream into a meditation on universal human fears and insecurities.”
In accepting the New York Drama Critics Award for Best Musical last Thursday, Jackson said: “I feel like I’m on an episode of Quantum Leap and I’m transporting between different dimensions…whenever we get to the other side of whatever this is, I feel like theater will still be home for me.” He thanked all the people who helped turn into theater something that had been “gestating inside of me for over 20 years as a black, queer boy growing up, coming of age, trying to figure out who he was, where he belonged, figuring out how to be an artist..”
The two finalists were Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning and Soft Power by David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori. All three shows had runs Off-Broadway, both A Strange Loop and Heroes of the Fourth Turning at Playwrights Horizons, and Soft Power at the New York Public Theater.
The Pulitzer Drama jury this year featured:
Wendy Goldberg (Chair)
Artistic Director, National Playwrights Conference, Eugene O’Neill Theater Center
Writer/Editor, New York City
Theater Critic, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.
Director, Arts and Culture Reporting, CUNY Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism
Professor of Journalism and Director in Arts Concentration, MA Program in Journalism, Columbia University