Is Broadway Ready for Hip Hop? Tupac Shakur Musical Aims to Be a Game-Changer

By Karu F. Daniels
21 Jun 2014

Tupac Shakur
Tupac Shakur

Saul Williams, Todd Kreidler, Chuck Creekmur and Daryl Waters discuss the Broadway premiere of Holler If Ya Hear Me and if Broadway is ready for a hip hop musical. 

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Broadway's Palace Theatre has played host to the works of legendary songwriters Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Jule Styne and countless others. Now, another iconic moniker makes its way to the Palace's famed marquee: Tupac Shakur.

The words and poetry of one of hip-hop's most provocative and prolific voices has found its way to Broadway after a near 15-year long journey. The new musical entitled Holler If Ya Hear Me, which opened June 19, has a connection to August Wilson and has remained a passion project for director Kenny Leon.

With a story by dramaturg Todd Kreidler, the musical stars Saul Williams as John, who returns to his Midwestern hometown after being in prison for six years. Christopher Jackson, Saycon Sengbloh, Ben Thompson, John Earl Jelks, Joshua Boone, Dyllon Burnside and Tony winner Tonya Pinkins comprise the host of characters that await John on his journey home.



After achieving stardom as rap music's bad boy, Shakur (née Lesane Parish Crooks) died September 13, 1996 — six days after being shot during a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. With millions of records sold before and after his murder at the age of 25, he remains one of the genre's most iconic figures.

"I'm such a Tupac fan beyond his music, but of his spirit too," said Williams. "I think that in terms of what [Jean-Michel] Basquiat may represent as the visual artist of the hip-hop world... I think that Tupac is the sonic equivalent to that."

Williams, a Tisch School of the Arts graduate, is an acclaimed poet and performer in his own right. His 1998 independent film debut "Slam" won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and has become a cult classic. A self-proclaimed "theatre kid," Holler marks his Broadway debut. Upon hearing the news he was chosen for the show, he said he cried with his newlywed wife: "At that moment, it was like, 'I'm going to Broadway to do this thing that I was actually prepared to do, the thing that I've been studying for and fighting for my whole life, which is just theatricalizing hip hop.'"

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