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Pandemic taps the brakes on ‘A Strange Loop,’ the Broadway-bound Pulitzer winner

“A Strange Loop” was the 2020 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama. (Joan Marcus)

“A Strange Loop,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical that was to begin its journey to Broadway at Woolly Mammoth Theatre in September, has been postponed, the company announced Thursday. The D.C. engagement is now slated for summer 2021 as the show’s next step.

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Like so many projects in the planning stages, “A Strange Loop” is caught in the logistical nightmare of covid-19 curtailments.

“All theaters are having to learn what it means to open in phases, to protect our audiences and our artists,” said Maria Goyanes, Woolly’s artistic director. “So we are going to be moving ‘A Strange Loop’ to now end the Woolly Mammoth season. The hope is that we would be able to start performances early next summer.”

Other changes to the Woolly season have yet to be announced.

Michael R. Jackson’s musical, an autobiographical carousel of sorts, set in the overcaffeinated mind of a conflicted black gay playwright, has had its fortunes boosted by the Pulitzer it garnered May 4. So Jackson, Goyanes and Barbara Whitman — a New York producer attached to the show since its development period — were especially keen on establishing a realistic new timetable.

“I think we just didn’t know what was going to happen, with the daily saga of this virus,” said the Detroit-born Jackson. “Also, the thing I had been thinking about is people’s state of mind: When would people want to sit together and watch a show and have that communal experience again? It’s such a psychically traumatic thing. It’s going to take a while for people to relax with each other.”

Of the 10 musicals awarded the Pulitzer Prize over the past century — among them, “South Pacific,” “A Chorus Line,” “Rent” and “Hamilton” — “A Strange Loop” is the first to win without having been staged on Broadway. It debuted in a well-received production, directed by Stephen Brackett, last summer at off-Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons. For Jackson, who has been honing “A Strange Loop” in readings and workshops for nearly two decades, the past 10 days have been like none before. And as the first black musical theater writer to win, the honor has felt all the more remarkable.

“It’s meaningful to me in the sense that perhaps the culture will listen to other people of color and in my case, black voices in particular,” said Jackson, 39, a graduate of New York University’s highly regarded musical theater program. “My career in musical theater was not a predestined one, but also once I decided that was what I wanted to do, I didn’t give myself a Plan B.

“It hasn’t been easy and it hasn’t always been fair, but I stuck with it. I wanted to get my voice out there and my message and my musical. It’s important in that respect, if I’m the first black composer. I want to hear from the second and the third.”

Whitman, who was a producer on Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron’s “Fun Home,” a musical with off-Broadway roots that went on to Broadway and Tony-winning success, wants to take “A Strange Loop” to Broadway sometime after the Woolly Mammoth production. It will retain Brackett as director. Casting is still to be determined, although Jackson says he is devoted to the Playwrights Horizons ensemble.

An intimate, unconventional musical, “A Strange Loop” probably doesn’t have a huge upside for the tourist market, which — before the pandemic — was Broadway’s mainstay. There is great uncertainty about what the constellation of shows will look like whenever Broadway does reopen. But if a resurgent Times Square becomes more dependent on New York audiences who gravitate toward more sophisticated fare, “A Strange Loop” may be well positioned.

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“It’s still an unusual musical, and it fits Woolly to a T,” Whitman said. “But it’s not ‘The Music Man’ with Hugh Jackman” — another Broadway show in the works. As for winning the Pulitzer, she added, “it does add a level of excitement around the show. Between the Pulitzer and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle [award], there’s definitely a specific audience that will want to see this.”

Jackson plans to do a little work on “A Strange Loop” before the Woolly run: “There were certain things I didn’t pull off the way I wanted to,” he said, particularly toward the end of the show. He’s using this silent moment for live theater to try to perfect other material, including “White Girl in Danger,” a piece for off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theatre and director Lileana Blain-Cruz.

“It’s about the nature of storytelling and consciousness with a soap opera twist,” Jackson said, laughing. “I came to New York to be a soap opera writer — I thought I’d be the head writer of ‘One Life to Live.’ ”

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