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REVIEW: ‘Holler If Ya Hear Me’ Broadway Musical

Tupac Shakur’s Holler If Ya Hear Me is Broadway’s rap musical set to the songbook of one of pop culture’s most notorious figures. Built around nearly 20 of the deceased rapper’s songs, poetry and Wayne Cilento’s choreography, the show centers around family, loyalty, gun violence and redemption.

Considered one of the most influential figures in pop music, Shakur’s life was cut short in a drive-by shooting at age 25. As a result, the rapper has been crowned a martyr — an especially interesting development, given his contradictory lifestyle. Part gangster, part community activist, his legacy speaks to one who has endured the perils of racism, violence, fatherless children, political injustice and police brutality.

Set in an anonymous urban city, Tony Award-winning director Kenny Leon centers the play around the murder of a neighborhood “good kid” Benny (Donald Webber, Jr.). As a result of Benny’s death, two childhood best friends meet again six years later: newly released ex-con John (acclaimed poet Saul Williams) and drug-dealer Vertus (In The Heights alum Christopher Jackson). While one wishes to leave his past behind, trading prison orange for auto shop blue, the other agonizes over how to avenge his brother’s death and keep the local gang from harming others especially his mother (portrayed by Tonya Pinkins).

A cast of unforgettable characters, including former girlfriend Corrine (Saycon Sengbloh), a street preacher father (John Earl Jelks) and overly enthusiastic revolutionary (Dyllon Burnside) and a slew of others looking for answers and ways to avenge and protect their beloved dreary neighborhood — a locale that no one seems to want to escape.

While the story is powerful, one cannot forget this is a musical. An array of Tupac’s most popular anthems– “Dear Mama,” “Whatz Next,” “California Love,” “Me Against the World,” “If I Die 2Nite”and “Ghetto Gospel”– recognizes that love, family and community always sustain us, no matter the circumstances. That said, one of the rare, cohesive musical moments occur between a battle of the sexes: The guys sing ‘Pac’s hardcore anthem  “I Get Around” while the ladies declare “Keep Ya Head Up,” the latter serving as a wake-up call to honor and respect the unconditional love all search to find.

The brilliant “call-and-response” displayed whenever John (Saul Williams) switches from spoken word to song, especially the fiery delivery of “The Rose That Grew from Concrete” exclaiming “we would all love its will to reach the sun, well, we are the roses, this is the concrete and these are my damaged petals, don’t ask me why, thank God, and ask me how.”

Few may flinch at the excessive usage of harsh language while many will embrace this as a love letter to not only a fallen hip-hop soldier, but to communities who need and deserve a better day.  A bold move by Broadway, but it surely will pay off in the end.  In short, you will holler and we will hear your cry!

Editor’s Note: Holler If Ya Hear Me will close on Sunday, July 20. For ticket information, click HERE.

About Tyrus Rochell Townsend

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Cultural expositor Tyrus Rochell Townsend has written for Essence, Uptown, Vibe, BET.com, The Atlanta Post, Bleu Magazine,  Details Style Network and numerous other publications. Read about his style musings at The Gentleman’s Daily and follow him on Twitter @gentlemansdaily and on Instagram at @tyrusrochelltownsend and @thegentlemansdaily.