Holler if Ya Hear Me, a musical that uses Tupac Shakur‘s music and lyrics in a story about a man returning from prison, found new life in Atlanta. True Colors Theater Company opens the production on September 12th, according to the New York Times. Kenny Leon, who previously directed the musical’s brief Broadway run.
Holler if Ya Hear Me debuted on Broadway in 2014 with Saul Williams in the lead role. It was the only Broadway musical to incorporate hip-hop (obviously, before Hamilton). The show ended after 17 previews and 38 performances.
“We knew that we were entering a zone where entertainment had been fully aligned with escapism,” Williams told Rolling Stone at the time. “Broadway or America prefers their stories packaged like Rocky at this point. So when we’re onstage with this thing, we knew that it was going to be a struggle and an uphill battle going into it.”
Williams remained confident in the artistic merits of Holler if Ya Hear Me. “When you do something fresh and new, you’re going to face obstacles,” he said. “I just hope more people find the way to bring it back because it was the shit.”
The new version of Holler if Ya Hear Me makes small tweaks to the original. The New York Times reports that the production now spends more times with the lead character, John, at the beginning of the play before introducing the supporting cast (there are 19 actors in total). And in the latest iteration of the play, the Shakur song “I Ain’t Mad at Cha” has been moved up – it was the fifth song in the Broadway production, but will appear second in Atlanta.
Director Kenny Leon was optimistic about the musical’s chances to succeed outside of the topical confines and high costs of Broadway. He announced the play would return in Atlanta in September 2016, citing Harry Belafonte as an inspiration for putting on another version of the musical. “[Belafonte] says to me, ‘You put on display a form of Afrocentrism on a Eurocentric platform. That within itself is a success,'” Leon remembered. “It changed my whole perspective after that.”
“Artistically, I look at Broadway as the tryout, and I am excited to get back into this story again,” said Todd Kreidler, the librettist in the Atlanta production. “People are going to see the story through a different lens because of Ferguson and Black Lives Matter.”