Shaking up the status quo: Raja Feather Kelly makes movement matter in A Strange Loop

A Strange Loop is shockingly fresh, aggressively out-there, and a show that finally carves out space for stories that weren’t previously welcome (let alone seen at all) on a Broadway stage. My mask covered my recurring jaw drop throughout the hour-forty-five one act Tony-winning musical…Did they just say that? Is it okay for me to laugh? That song was about what? How exactly am I feeling right now?

In his Broadway choreography debut, Raja Feather Kelly makes movement integral, organic, and individual. Kelly, who hails from the downtown dance scene, brings a refreshing vocabulary and aesthetic to the Lyceum Theatre. In lieu of codified technical tricks like triple pirouettes and acrobatics, Kelly magically merges pedestrian movement with camp and pop culture references—the perfect sauce for a silly and serious show like A Strange Loop that makes you laugh at things that maybe aren’t so funny. 

Kelly’s casual and carefree movement—though clearly highly choreographed—make the characters feel relatable and “just like us.” Each of the actors plays a whole host of different characters throughout the show, each with their own voice and movement vocabulary. The show is led by Jaquel Spivey as Uher and the remaining six company members play his literal “thoughts.” They serve as Usher’s mini-Greek chorus and personifying his insecurities, family dynamics, dreams, and deepest fears through how they walk, talk, groove, respond, and relate. Even when the choreography is in unison, the actors maintain a sense of freedom and autonomy over their execution. In fact, this intentional nonconformity helped me identify and understand the ever-changing characters. I’d love to see the show six more times, watching one actor all the way through from start to finish each go-around. Thank you, Kelly, for reminding Broadway that a little individuality doesn’t necessarily detract from a performance. Perfect precision is spectacular but needn’t always be the norm. 

For such a relatively small cast and stage, there is a lot going on in A Strange Loop. Nothing is “filler.” Every head nod, stylized walk, pony pony shimmy slap, and intentionally marked 45-degree fan kick has a purpose. While every movement may not further along the plot per se, it likely serves another critical role: contextualizing a broader societal theme, enhancing character development and relationship, and making us chuckle so we let our guards down and can absorb a little bit more.

There’s a reason A Strange Loop makes audiences laugh, gasp, and shift in their seats—because we’re all part of the system that made it so. As illustrated by A Strange Loop’s Tony win, a poignant story, versatile cast, and organic, intentional movement can often be more powerful than that over-the-top showbiz spectacle. Audiences will always be entertained by big song, dance, and razzle dazzle. But A Strange Loop exemplifies what’s shifted over the past two-and-a-half years. Now more than ever, we crave authenticity, vulnerability, and the ability to see our same world through a new lens.

***I can’t wait to see Kelly’s upcoming work for two very different Broadway-bound musicals, Suffs—about a woman’s right to vote—and Lempicka—about Polish art deco artist, Tamara de Lempicka.

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