Tupac is a once and a lifetime type of artist. His music painfully paints the atrocities and hypocrisy of surviving in America as a Black man from the inner city. Shakur’s raw, powerful music is timeless. So it’s an ambitious project to take some of his greatest and most influential songs and make them the catalyst for a Broadway play. Holler If Ya Hear Me—written by Todd Kreidler and directed by Kenny Leon—does just that and it’s worth seeing.
Edward Pierce’s set design and Mike Baldassar’s lighting are astounding, and the orchestra gave a whole new life to his music. The hero (Saul Williams), his girlfriend (Saycon Sengbloh) and childhood friend/local kingpin (Christopher Jackson) were all excellent. You can understand why Williams plays the lead because of his background: He’s a spoken-word artist with a commanding demeanor, and he has this kind of Tupac-like ferocity that you immediately feel. The singing was vibrant and moving with colorful characters. The choreography was average, and at times you’ll probably expect more. However, the real drawback with Holler If Ya Hear Me is the story. It’s a bland and generic gangland saga. A guy comes back from prison after a couple of years, tries to stay out of trouble but gets constantly pulled back into turmoil after an innocent good kid gets killed. It’s not the story some fans want to hear. It’s not about Tupac’s life. That being said you have to applaud the creativity of taking Pac’s lyrics and infusing them into the script. Songs like “Me Against The World,” “Thugz Mansion,” “Keep Ya Head Up,” “I Get Around” and of course “Holler If Ya Hear Me” are all in the play. At times it does feel forced, but Christopher Jackson and Joshua Boone, Vertus and John, do have major moments in the play that will warm your heart.
Holler If Ya Hear Me will not wow you or change the face of theater. But you will be satisfied and instantly want to revisit Tupac’s catalog. It’s fresh, imaginative, and it reminds you just how great Tupac is.
Holler If Ya Hear Me is at the Palace Theatre