"Holler if Ya Hear Me," known to many on Broadway simply as the Tupac Shakur musical, officially opened in New York at the Palace Theatre on Thursday as one of the first shows of the new Broadway season.
The musical isn't a biography of the late rap star, who was killed at the age of 25 in 1996. The singer's mother, Afeni Shakur, reportedly didn't grant her son's life rights to the production. As a result, the production uses Shakur's music to tell a fictionalized story of a young man who returns to his inner-city block after a stint in prison.
Kenny Leon, who won a Tony Award for directing the recent revival of "A Raisin in the Sun," has staged the musical with a cast that includes Saul Williams as the protagonist, as well as Saycon Sengbloh as his former girlfriend and Tonya Pinkins as the mother of a drug dealer.
It remains unclear how the musical will fare commercially on Broadway, whose core demographic isn't usually the type that listens to rap music. Reviews of the show aren't bound to help, either.
Charles Isherwood of the New York Times described the musical as "heartfelt but heavy-handed, as it punches home its message with a relentlessness that may soon leave you numb to the tragic story it's trying to tell." Still, the show "admirably yanks the jukebox musical, which has mostly been mired in the hit parade of the baby-boomer years, into the last decade of the 20th century."
Variety's Marilyn Stasio wrote that "while the musical numbers and sung-through poems fit snugly into the story, the story doesn’t support them... [the show] observes ill-defined characters inhabiting some indeterminate place and time."
Jesse Green of New York magazine called the show "oddly vague,"adding that the musical "has a big problem with stylistic monotony. Emotional monotony, too." Director Kenny Leon "seems to have been in a bit of a rush here, relying too often on stereotyped or shorthand gestures, movement patterns, and effects."
Newsday's Glenn Gamboa wrote that the musical "has flashes of brilliance, especially in its celebrations," but the plot often feels like "it's jumping through hoops to move from one stellar performance from the cast to the next."