Hip-Hop in the Footlights
Tupac Shakur comes to Broadway in the posthumous musical ''Holler If Ya Hear Me''
Broadway has never seen anything quite like Holler If Ya Hear Me. Based on the songbook of the late hip-hop legend Tupac Shakur, the new musical weaves hits like ”California Love” and ”Dear Mama” into a narrative about a gangland murder featuring a loose Tupac avatar named John (played by spoken-word artist Saul Williams). The cast is a mix of Broadway veterans and newbies discovered on YouTube. To create a more intimate experience, producers even ripped 500 seats out of the Palace Theatre (where the show begins previews on June 2).
Holler is also a departure for director Kenny Leon, who just earned a Tony nomination for his revival of A Raisin in the Sun with Denzel Washington. After working for nearly a decade on Holler with Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur, Leon saw real connections between thug life and theater. ”Every day when I walked to rehearsal for A Raisin in the Sun, I would put on my earphones and play Tupac’s music,” Leon says. ”One day I hear a lyric, ‘I was given this world/I didn’t make it.’ I get to rehearsal, and there’s a scene where [Washington’s character] Walter Lee says, ‘I didn’t make this world! It was given to me this way!’ I was like, ‘Wait a minute!’ So I think Holler If Ya Hear Me is almost Raisin in the Sun 50 years later. It’s still about access to the American dream.”