If you’re a Tupac Shakur fan, you may have been surprised to hear that Holler If Ya Hear Me, a new musical inspired by the music of the late rapper, is heading to Broadway's Palace Theatre. And if you're a Broadway fan (of course you are! why else would you be reading this?), you also may have been surprised at the news, but Tony-nominated director Kenny Leon believes everyone will be able to relate to the "mountain of beauty" and powerful messages in Shakur's lyrics and songs.
Leon, who earned a Tony nod for directing 2010's Fences and is also helming this spring's revival of A Raisin in the Sun, recently told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Holler If Ya Me is the "greatest artistic challenge" of his life. "Selfishly, this is a great thing for me. I feel a great amount of responsibility to his work, to his mother." Shakur’s mother, Afeni, is also a producer on the show. "She said 10 years ago that she has full trust in me," Leon said.
The production will feature songs from throughout the rap icon's career, including classics like "California Love," "Keep Ya Head Up," "Me Against the World" and, naturally, the title song, but the story itself is not directly based on Shakur's life or his drive-by shooting death in 1996. Instead, the story, written by Todd Kreidler, focuses on two childhood friends living in a poverty-stricken Midwestern industrial city, struggling to realize their dreams.
"One of those men spends some time in prison and comes out and wants to change his neighborhood and finds that he really can’t change it alone," said Leon. "It’s a family story, a love story. If you can, imagine four or five men onstage singing 'Dear Mama,' and what that will sound like. Hopefully, it will change the world."
Holler If Ya Hear Me doesn't officially open until June 19 and casting information hasn't yet been announced, but the production will feature choreography by Wicked's Wayne Cilento and music supervision by Daryl Waters (After Midnight). Leon said he's determined to make sure the musical appeals to everyone. "I want every white older American to get it. I want every older black American to get it. I want every hip-hop artist to get it. I want every 15-year-old to get it," he said. "If you can write something that touches every one of those groups, we have been successful."