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Reported by Kacie Whaley
Nineties hip-hop star Tupac Shakur has been idolized and celebrated as one of the best rappers of all time since his tragic death in 1996. Shakur’s music has lived on through posthumous albums, documentaries, college courses, and holograms. So it’s no surprise that his legacy has also ventured into Broadway.
Holler If Ya Hear Me is a play that highlights underprivileged life, from being a convict and surviving life outside of prison walls to interactions and temptations that occur in the streets. Throughout the musical, the actors break into signature Tupac songs, such as “California Love,” “My Block,” “Hail Mary,” and “Changes.” And after all of that, the musical still finds room to sprinkle in some romance.
While some critics have praised the play’s performances, such as from famed poet Saul Williams, who plays the lead role as ex-con John, many have also expressed an overall mediocre experience as a viewer. Teresa Wiltz of The Root described the play, written by Todd Kreidler, as “wholesome,” with Tupac’s edginess being “neutralized,” possibly to cater to a “white [and] middle-aged” audience. Wiltz added that Holler comes off as cliché, and is reminiscent of another Broadway play, West Side Story.
The Variety’s Marilyn Stasio wrote that although the musical numbers are “so uplifting you’ll think you’re in church,” the lyrics are “almost unintelligible.” She also admitted that a play based on Tupac’s biography would be much more interesting than the story that Holler tells.
David Rooney called Holler “well-intentioned, but toothless” and unoriginal in The Hollywood Review. He gives credit to the “powerful” music that is featured, but calls the songs “a poor fit for [the] narrative presentation.”
From the sound of many critics’ accounts, if you’re Holler If Ya Hear Me-bound, you may hear amazing musical numbers that could seem a bit out-of-place, and talented acting revolved around a less-than-interesting storyline. Yet, experiencing it for yourself may prove to be more rewarding than listening to critics.