Broadway Resurrects Tupac Shakur With ‘Holler If Ya Hear Me’ [EXCLUSIVE]
Nearly 20 years have passed since Tupac Shakur's murder on the Las Vegas strip, but even though he's gone physically, the rapper is being brought to life -- at least through his music -- with the Broadway play 'Holler If Ya Hear Me.'
With more than 10 posthumous albums, more than five post-death documentaries and three books of poetry, the New York-born, California-bred hip-hop icon has personified the meaning of being the rose that grew from concrete. From his roles on television to his thought-provoking performances in film and 30 million-plus album sold, Tupac has done it all, but now, he can add Broadway to the growing list.
New York's famed Broadway Theatre conglomerate recently announced its latest addition to the upcoming season's musical lineup, and to the surprise of many, Tupac's name was on the docket. The legendary theatrical strip wasted no time in opening doors to New York City's Palace Theatre, located in the heart of Times Square, to feature 'Holler If Ya Hear Me.' Many were eager to hear audience reviews of how the late rap star would be incorporated into a Broadway show.
Similar to any upscale theater showing, hip-hop fans and those in the theater circuit stood in line waiting to enter the Palace doors. As people were seated, others patiently waited for the house lights to dim and a voice or silhouette to appear onstage. As soon as the theater faded to black, famed poet-writer-actor Saul Williams -- known for his roles on 'Girlfriends,' 'K-Pax' and 'Lackawana Blue' -- began to rap lyrics from 'Pac's 'My Block' to open the show.
Contrary to general assumptions regarding the show's premise and theme, Broadway's 'Holler If Ya Hear Me' is not a biographical story of Tupac's life told through song. The two-hour-and-20-minute show is actually a musical inspired by Tupac's music and the stories he shared through his lyrics over the years. In fact, the only piece of the musical that is reflective of the West Coast MC's life is the mother, Mrs. Weston, played by Tonya Pinkins who, like Afeni Shakur, is a recovering drug addict trying to keep her sons from making her same mistakes.
The play uses songs like 'Life Goes On,' 'I Get Around,' 'Keep Ya Head Up,' 'Dear Mama' and of course 'Holler If Ya Hear Me' to help the actors depict the struggles of gang violence, drug addiction, incarceration and unwanted death to portray the lives Tupac readily described when putting pen to paper or rapped his lyrics.
The play tells the story of John (Saul Williams), Vertus (Christopher Jackson), Corrine (Saycon Sengbloh), Darius (Joshua Boone), Reggie (Jaime Lincoln Smith) and Benny (Donald Webber, Jr.), a group of young adults in an urban neighborhood looking to make a better life for the future, attempting to leave their current situations in the past. Reminiscent of Spike Lee's slew of films released in the '90s, 'Holler If Ya Hear' portrays a clear message while using Lee's 'School Daze' "Wake up!" directive to get its point across. Saul Williams and Christopher Jackson give a riveting performance as their counterparts aid in delivering a show that allows the audience to laugh, be surprised and even be upset with certain scenes.
Ending the show with 'Thugz Mansion, 'California Love' and finally 'Ghetto Gospel,' play attendees receive a more in-depth look at Tupac's brilliantly twisted soul.
Many may have feared the Stewart F. Lane, James M. Nederlander and James L. Nederlander-directed musical wouldn't pay homage to Tupac properly, but by the end of the 140-minute show, it's clear the three directors and their crew saw a theatrical vision that could be flawlessly brought to life.