BWW Reviews: New Broadway Musical HOLLER IF YA HEAR ME Shines Light on Music of Tupac Shakur
I was both excited and terrified by the idea of a musical based on 2Pac's music and poems. While his lyrics are beautifully deep and his music is robust in it's detail, I was nervous that it would not translate when rearranged and staged. I could not have been more wrong. Director Kenny Leon and the cast of characters do a fantastic job of adapting 2Pac's music to a fictional story without compromising the music's integrity.
"Holler if Ya Hear Me" tells the story of John, a former gang banger who has just been released from prison and who is trying to avoid returning to a life of violence. The story deals with John's everyday struggle to stay on the straight and narrow. One of John's most fascinating relationships exists between him and his former best friend, Vertus. The relationship becomes increasingly complicated when John is released from prison, as he abandons his violent world, one into which he had pulled Vertus. Much of 2Pac's music focused on this type of conflict between friends. A fantastic example is John and Vertus' rendition of "I Ain't Mad At Cha." The song details two friends growing apart, yet there is no anger between them.
The entire musical synergizes with the themes of 2Pac's music. An example of this is a mash-up of the men in the cast performing I Get Around and the women performing Keep Ya Head Up. I Get Around expresses the joy in male promiscuity, while Keep Ya Head Up focuses on female empowerment, encouraging society to change and treat women properly. The song choices themselves line up very well with the story, as do the characters with the verses. Each make sense in their respective songs.
Todd Kriedler's book separated 2Pac's many traits among the various characters. This allowed him to show the various sides of Tupac Shakur's personality without making it confusing. The most unique element of the musical was its set. Unlike traditional musicals, which feature painted sets, "Holler if Ya Hear Me" features computer generated graffiti set against a black, brick backdrop.
In all of these ways, Holler if Ya Hear Me is surprising. It is the most accessible presentation of Hip Hop music that I have ever seen. My entire family, who collectively hates Hip Hop, adored "Holler." At the very beginning of the show, director Kenny Leon explained that "Holler if Ya Hear Me" is a show for everyone, and that was blatantly clear. The show not only introduces an entire new audience to the brilliant music and lyrics of Tupac Shakur, it proves that his canon of work has the power to move people universally.
About HOLLER IF YA HEAR ME:
HOLLER IF YA HEAR ME, written by Todd Kreidler and directed by Kenny Leon, is now in previews and will open on Thursday, June 19. HOLLER IF YA HEAR ME, the world inside Tupac Shakur's music and lyrics, blazes to life in a non-biographical story about friendship, family, revenge, change and hope. Inner city lives struggle for peace against the daily challenges they face in this entertaining and original musical. Through the poetry of one of the 20th century's most influential and culturally prominent voices, we are given a window into realities of the streets still relevant today.
HOLLER IF YA HEAR ME stars award-winning slam poet, actor, singer, musician Saul Williams(Slam) as John, Christopher Jackson (After Midnight) as Vertus, Saycon Sengbloh (Motown The Musical, Fela!) as Corinne, Ben Thompson (Matilda) as Griffy, John Earl Jelks (Radio Golf - Tony nomination) as Street Preacher, Joshua Boone (Brownsville Song [b side for Tray] at Actors Theatre of Louisville) as Darius, Dyllon Burnside ("Prison Break") as Anthony and Tony Award winner Tonya Pinkins (Jelly's Last Jam, Caroline or Change, Play On!) as Mrs. Weston.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus