It seems bizarrely fortuitous that Michael R. Jackson’s musical A Strange Loop, which last week won both the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for drama (musical or otherwise) and the 2019 Hull-Warriner Award, was actually on my list to recommend this week. I was lucky enough to get in to one of the few remaining performances last summer after the show won across-the-board critical raves, and it literally blew me away. This is a daring, take-no-prisoners work, almost stream of consciousness housed within in an enfilated concept: Usher is a black, queer writer, working a day job he hates while writing his original musical: a piece about a black, queer writer, working a day job he hates while writing his original musical… etc etc. Jackson’s challenges to the boundaries he views from the world at large, the gay community, and the black community are searingly conveyed in a stream of funny and furious numbers.
This superb recording by the original cast captures the entire show.
Warning: this recording is Not Safe For Work nor for culturally sensitive types. Many expletives and trigger words are used.
One of the highlights for me of this past New York theater season, which was overwhelmed with great new work both musical and non, was the new show Bandstand, with a score by Richard Oberbacker and Robert Taylor. This trenchant, poignant yet unfailingly exuberant and toe-tapping show garnered great reviews and much enthusiastic word of mouth, and rightly so. Sadly, amidst the competition this season it never found a strong foothold, and is closing on September 17. So if you’re in New York or coming, I can’t recommend this show enough: catch it live while you can. It’s a big, complicated show and I imagine a tour is a long shot.
Aside from Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography that rightly won this year’s Tony and stellar performances across the board, this score has some of the most amazing arrangements and orchestration in recent years by Greg Anthony Rassen and Bill Elliott, and given the genius work that’s been coming in lately that’s saying a lot.
Seriously, catch it live if you can. Failing that, or better yet in addition to, the original Broadway cast recording superbly captures this show.
If you haven’t yet heard of the musical theater writing team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, you’re gonna. Since coming to public attention on youtube with their song cycle Edges, these baby geniuses have shot to fame with their contributions to the TV series Glee and the movie La-la land, as well as several stage works including the poignant Dogfight (one of the most memorable nights I’ve ever had in the theater) and the widely acclaimed Dear Evan Hanson.
Early in their career the team created a musicalized stage version of the popular holiday movie A Christmas Story. This is a charming recasting of a perennial favorite and offers a welcome contrast to the typical slew of various Christmas Carols. Along with the marvelous orchestrations by Larry Blank, this album always impresses me by Pasek and Paul’s ability to draw such broad, charming capital from the somewhat slight, introspective story.
Missing from this recording is the big Act 2 showstopper “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out”, which rightly received much acclaim in the press for both its rafter-rattling choreography and its tunefulness. This performance from that year’s Tony Awards features the original Broadway cast, including a passel of preternaturally talented baby hoofers.
Like premium hot chocolate, this show is tasty, rich and warming. Check it out via the image below: