Director Kenny Leon has two buzzy projects in the works—a spring Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun, starring Denzel Washington and Diahann Carroll, and the new musical Holler If Ya Hear Me, based on the music (but not the life) of the late Tupac Shakur. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Leon spoke candidly about the latter, which marks the Tony-nominated director’s first foray into Broadway musicals.
“When you look at the lyrics of [Tupac’s] music, he was always talking about universal things like honor, betrayal, family,” Leon told WSJ. “[Tupac] was just trying to talk about life and say something about the country and being an American and raising a family here.”
The “anti-violence” and “unconditional love” story uses Tupac’s R&B and rap music to tell an original story set in the inner-city streets of a Midwestern industrial city, following two childhood friends and their families as they reconcile the challenges and realities of their daily lives with their hopes and dreams.
Leon did not alter much of Shakur's music for the show, and he received the blessing of the late rapper's mother Afeni Shakur (who will produce) to embark on the drama, which will feature a book by Todd Kreidler (Leon’s associate director on Fences) and choreography by Tony winner Wayne Cilento.
A theater is not in place ("There's a backlog in available theaters"), but Leon confirmed that funding has been completed and the show has been workshopped three times. The director also revealed that a cast has been tentatively set.
“We had to have a group of actors that could sing, that could rap, that could dance—that could do hip-hop dance as well as straightforward Broadway musical dance,” said Leon of the cast. “We had to have a good mix of 24 people who could do it all, but above all we needed actors who could tell the story.”
In the same interview, Leon spoke obliquely about the casting of 58-year-old Washington as Walter Lee Younger, the ne'er-do-well son of matriarch Lena (Carroll). The role was most recently played on Broadway by Sean Combs in a 2004 revival directed by Leon. "There's nothing in the text that says, 'Walter, bring your 37-year-old butt in the house," the director said, noting that original star Sidney Poitier was 32 and his stage mom, Claudia McNeil, was 41. Washington did sellout business and won a Best Actor Tony for Leon's 2010 revival of Fences. A Raisin in the Sun is set to begin previews on March 8, 2014, at the Barrymore Theatre.