John-Andrew Morrison (‘A Strange Loop’) on bringing ‘all of my authentic self’ to his Tony-nominated performance [Exclusive Video Interview]

“It fulfilled my queer artist soul,” claims John-Andrew Morrison of getting to perform in “A Strange Loop” on Broadway. The actor admits that he didn’t believe the show would find commercial life because of the candid perspective with which creator Michael R. Jackson tells the story. Morrison assumed producers would say “he’s too Black, he’s too queer, he’s too honest.” But critics swooned over the production and it earned a whopping 11 nominations at this year’s Tony Awards, including a Featured Actor in a Musical bid for Morrison. “It feels like the greatest encouragement,” gushes the newly minted nominee. Watch the exclusive video interview above.

In the musical, Morrison plays one of five “Thoughts” floating around Usher’s (Jaquel Spivey) head. Each Thought embodies an assortment of concepts and people in Usher’s life, and Morrison makes quite the impact when he slips on the guise of the central character’s mother. In the song “Periodically,” Usher’s Mom calls up with some motherly love that turns to a fire and brimstone type warning about his “homosexual lifestyle.”

SEE L Morgan Lee interview: ‘A Strange Loop’

“I play it from the point of view that she absolutely adores him more than anything,” reveals the actor of this complicated parental figure. She’s a woman rooted in her strict faith and concerned for her child’s salvation. “Every single thing that she’s saying is out of love and concern for her son,” notes Morrison. It’s an important familial tether that elevates the character beyond a simple one-note bigot. “I don’t demonize this woman at all. In fact I love her deeply,” reveals the performer.

Morrison’s recent experiences with his own mother have helped deepen these scenes. She suffered a massive stroke at the beginning of the Covid lockdown, and the actor returned home to Jamaica to help care for her for six months. This confrontation with mortality has shifted the way the actor portrays Usher’s mother. “A sense of urgency has definitely creeped in,” he suggests. A new understanding that time and health are not guaranteed to any of us. There’s also a sense of joy and play that Morrison’s Mom shows him, which he tries to weave into his scenes with Usher every night. At times, the actor even realizes one of his Mom’s gestures has wound up in the character. “I take my Mom onto the stage with me every night,” he beams.

SEE 2022 Drama League Award winners: ‘A Strange Loop,’ ‘Company,’ Sutton Foster …

Having a role that requires him to lean into his queerness, and indeed celebrates him for it, is a new but welcome phenomenon for Morrison. He is quick to recall audition horror stories where he remembers that “casting directors would say just horrible things directly to your face…you’re not black enough, or your pearls are flying out of your mouth.” His experience in “A Strange Loop” is the exact opposite. “Just the fact that I can show up in a room and bring all of my authentic self…what I have to offer is what is wanted and celebrated for this show? Wow,” revels the actor. “It’s thrilling because I do remember a time when nothing I had to offer was enough.”

The impact of “A Strange Loop” in its ability to lift people up reaches beyond the actors on stage. “I can’t tell you how many times queer people have come up to me after the show and just gone: I felt so seen,” reveals Morrison. He frequently carries the reassuring thought with him that there are young gay people who will see the show or discover the cast album who will choose life rather than suicide. It’s a motivator strong enough to get him through even the most exhausting days. “The magical thing that theater does, is that it makes people feel less lonely,” describes the actor. “People can see themselves.”

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