Written by Michael R. Jackson, the Pulitzer-winning piece follows a young, Black gay man writing a musical (also called A Strange Loop) as he battles his identity, self-perception, and desires. Garnering 11 Tony nominations within its first Broadway season, to the outside world, the musical’s success was almost instantaneous. But in reality, it was anything but — it was actually a strange loop.
Lee, who’s been a part of the production since 2015, plays one of five “thoughts” in the show, each signifying a range of emotions that consume the main character, Usher. But before the production ever took the stage, the actress knew it was something special.
“We knew that we loved the show, and we knew there was something special there, but we had no idea how people were going to take it,” Lee tells Out.
Jackson developed the musical for nearly two decades, birthing the show’s first song in 2004 while a student of an NYU graduate program, then crafting the story, changing the story, and ultimately, debuting the seasoned piece in 2019 at Playwrights Horizons.
Needless to say, the premiere was a long-time coming. But for Lee, the significance went beyond the premiere, itself.
“It was the first time that I would be seen in New York City with the right name and with myself feeling my most whole,” she says, reflecting back on her transition. “I was absolutely terrified of how I'd be received or if I'd be misgendered.”
To the actress’ surprise, she was met with “the complete opposite” of her fears, what she calls “a gift” of acceptance (and a far cry from the typical response).
Despite working in the industry for over twenty years, noticeably oozing talent, Lee recognizes that it wasn’t until she stepped into her own truth that her success multiplied.
“Truth resonates,” she says. “How can I be the best actress that I can be, how can I be the most authentic actress I can be, if I haven't actually just shared me?”
“I’m very out and proud of being trans, and it is not lost on me that stepping into my most authentic self allowed doors to open.”
But rather than opening doors, the actress is shattering ceilings. As the first out trans actor to become Tony-nominated, she’s breaking barriers for every trans actor who will follow.
Lee is becoming the hero she once needed to see.
“I’m trying to help the room get more,” she says, hoping to highlight a variety of women's voices — trans and cis — in projects to come.
“As a trans woman, I can never take away your experience as a cis woman, it is not mine,” she says. “At the same token, you can't take away my experiences as a trans woman. I don't think our experiences are exactly the same, but boy do we face a lot of the same obstacles in this world.”
Though we are “fixed to see the differences rather than celebrate them,” Lee urges that we finally break the cycle, noting that all women are “alike in more ways than we are different.”
“That’s something we don’t talk about enough. It is the patriarchy’s biggest dream for us to keep fighting each other, because when we actually join together… That’s dangerous.”
For more information on A Strange Loop, including how you can see the show, visit their official website here.