Michael R. Jackson’s A Strange Loop wins Pulitzer Prize for Drama

Michael R. Jackson’s musical A Strange Loop won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The two finalists were Will Arbery’s play Heroes of the Fourth Turning and Soft Power, the musical by David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori.

The Pulitzer describes 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”

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.

In accepting the New York Drama Critics Circle Award last Thursday for the same musical, 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 Pulitzer Drama jury this year featured:

Wendy Goldberg (Chair)
Artistic Director, National Playwrights Conference, Eugene O’Neill Theater Center

Naveen Kumar
Writer/Editor, New York City

Dominic Papatola
Theater Critic, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

Janice Simpson
Director, Arts and Culture Reporting, CUNY Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism

Alisa Solomon
Professor of Journalism and Director in Arts Concentration, MA Program in Journalism, Columbia University

A Strange Loop is the tenth musical ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama since the award began in 1917.
The others: Of Thee I Sing (1932), South Pacific (1950), Fiorello! (1960), How To Succeed (1962), A Chorus Line (1976), Sunday in the Park with George (1985), Rent (1996), Next To Normal (2010), Hamilton (2016).

My review when it was playing at Playwrights Horizons in June, 2019:
“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

Later, the Thoughts sing about theater critics:

Watch them write you off as lazy,
Not to mention Navel-gazy
lacking both in craft and rigor…

Lazy and lacking in craft? No. Repetitious, and navel-gazy? Well, yes. Above all, “A Strange Loop”…. is certainly ambitious. Fifteen years in the making, it is rich with 18 tuneful songs, skit-like episodes, witticisms, mini-parodies, complex layers of erudition, and knowing allusions (including musical theater references to everything from The Color Purple to Sondheim’s Company to of course The Lion King.)…

Full review


Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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