Either it was calculated or it was kismet that June's Broadway opening, Holler If Ya Hear Me, fell on June 19 — "June 'Teenth," the oldest known holiday commemorating the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas in 1865 and, more generally, the emancipation of African-American citizens throughout the United States.
Normally, Broadway directors don't feel compelled to sign in before their shows, but Kenny Leon, new Tony winner in town (for A Raisin in the Sun), took to the Palace stage and leveled with the audience. "I'm just going to be honest and truthful with you tonight," he declared. "This is opening night of a revolution of a theatre piece."
The author of the revolution was the late Tupac Shakur, the rapper-poet-actor who was murdered in the East Coast-West Coast hip-hop wars of 1996. He was only 25.
In that brief time, he managed to sell 75 million records worldwide and become one of the best-selling music artists of all time (#86 among Rolling Stone's Top 100). Here, 20 of his big hits are shoehorned into a fictional storyline that reflects his lyrics about the grim and grime of contemporary ghetto life of a midwestern city.
To turn the long-cherished theatrical home of Judy and Annie into a stoop for Tupac certainly requires a revolution — and got it. The legendary show place with its rococo trim has been reconfigured, at a loss of 650 seats, into an intimate, stadium-type venue that one ordinarily finds at edgy events like rock concerts and such.
After walking through the two Palace lobbies, it's startling to discover the rear orchestra empty of patrons, and a huge mural from The National Museum of Hip-Hop cutting the ground-level orchestra section in two. On the other side of the mural, Rows A through J climb from the edge of the stage up to the front mezzanine.
This mural, by graffiti artist Andre Trenier, employs the four elements of hip-hop, which — I'm sure I don't have to tell you — are DJing, MCing, B-Boying and Graffiti. NMoH (that's The National Museum of Hip-Hop) also decorated the Palace walls with a Hip-HopExhibition featuring memorabilia unique to the genre and, on both sides of the empty orchestra seats, Dream Walls, where patrons become graffiti artists and scrawl their dreams. My favorite: "I'm dreaming of a Best Sound Tony."
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