Women Wonders: Rona Siddiqui, “Strange Loop” To 54 Below; Most People Are Outside The Box

If you truly want to understand people and improve our world, take a look at what theater artists are putting out there, particularly since the pandemic. Case in point, two projects with Rona Siddiqui’s name attached. Tony-winning A Strange Loop and Salaam Medina, Tales of A Halfghan. If you can’t decipher the meaning of these two titles, “Un-Block The Music” can tell you, both shows are likely to be something you have not seen before. Rona is on top of my list of “Women Wonders” for 2022/2023. Look out for her.

Photo credit: Michael Kuschner Photography

Rona Siddiqui is an award-winning composer/lyricist, orchestrator and music director based in NYC. She is the recipient of the 2020 Jonathan Larson Grant and the 2019 Billie Burke Ziegfeld Award, and was named one of Broadway Women’s Fund’s Women to Watch. In addition to being the musical director of A Strange Loop she wrote Salaam Medina, Tales of A Halfghan; not only the book, but music and lyrics as well. You can see the concert version of this show on Monday, October 24 at 54 Below in NYC. Get your tickets!  https://54below.com/events/new-musical-rona-siddiquis-salaam-medina-tales-of-a-halfghan/

Salaam Medina is semi-autobiographical, about growing up half Afghan and half Italian. It’s told in a vaudevillian Muppet show style. While Rona hopes audiences will leave the theater humming tunes, the underlying theme is the realization of what it is like to be “other” in a world many see as just black and white. “So many people don’t fit in a box. I think the show has to be fun while still sending a message to the audience,” she said. Raja Feather Kelly is directing the concert version of her show. He is A Strange Loop’s choreographer. “I am hoping to get all of the producers in the room, and have one of them take a chance. “I am ready to get my baby out of the nest,” Rona said.

It happened at 54 Below when Barbara Whitman (Fun Home/ The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and tons more) took a chance on A Strange Loop.  “We lucked out having Barbra Whitman as our producer. She has a keen eye for great story telling. She knows how to market stories that might not initially have mass appeal. She did it…she got us to Broadway.”

If you don’t know, A Strange Loop with book, music and lyrics by Michael R. Jackson, won the Pulitzer Price for Drama in 2020 and The Tony Award for Best Musical in 2022. It is the story of “Usher”, an overweight, Black queer man writing a musical about a Black queer man writing a musical. The premise may sound funny, and a lot of it is funny. “Un-Block The Music” saw it this past weekend. It certainly hit me in the gut. It’s about accepting yourself even if you never fit into anyone else’s box; even those you love. After watching that show, you will be somehow changed.

How did Rona get involved with A Strange Loop? She had been music directing off-Broadway shows that “resonated with me. I was taking jobs where I could learn something as a writer. I was looking for strong material and to work with people I wanted to be in the room with. Michael R Jackson asked me to do workshops of A Strange Loop. I read the script, never read anything like it in my life. He asked me a couple of times and I could never do it. Then in 2018, I jumped onboard. We didn’t know if audiences would reject it. When it opened off-Broadway, I had a pit in my stomach. We didn’t know if audiences would all storm out.” They didn’t.

Like A Strange Loop, Saalam Media has vulnerability. That…in Rona’s opinion, and in the opinion of “Un-Block The Music,” is what theater should be.

For more about Rona and her work, you have to wait for my book!! (Rona’s picture above is credited to  Michael Kuschner)

In the meantime, catch A Strange Loop at the Lyceum Theater. But, hurry, the last performance is January 15. For more about the show, and for tickets, go to:

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