Posted: 6:44 pm Sunday, July 13th, 2014
By Howard Pousner
Atlanta director Kenny Leon’s hip-hop musical “Holler If Ya Hear Me” continues to struggle to find a sufficient audience on Broadway, and producers are trying to raise $5 million to keep the show open in hopes that its box office will improve.
Hollywood veteran Eric L. Gold, lead producer of the musical that sets a fictional survival story around a score by the late Atlantan Tupac Shakur, told Variety, “It’s week to week right now. I can’t tell you if it’ll be two weeks or two months. It’s an expensive game, and I’m the guy carrying the load financially. I made a rookie mistake by underestimating how much capital was necessary, but I’m tenacious.”
Initially capitalized at $8 million. the musical debuted June 19 to reviews that have varied from tepid to cautiously positive.
In an extensive Atlanta Journal-Constitution story on the show, AJC music critic Melissa Ruggieri noted, “Leon’s headiest challenges are persuading a tradition-bound Broadway audience that Shakur’s messages are meaningful and getting it to understand that ‘Holler’ isn’t a concert, but something different.”
On Monday morning, Leon was still trying to make that case. Appearing on Tom Joyner’s syndicated radio show, he said, “It sounds like I’m begging, but I am. I want folks to run and see it because if they do, I think they’ll be rewarded with something that’s very meaningful and impactful to their lives.”
He called Shakur “an American voice that we hardly hear.
“I’ve done, what, almost 10 Broadway shows now and I just want to diversify Broadway,” Leon continued, “because that’s our largest stage in the country and everybody’s voice should be on that stage.”
For the week ending July 6, “Holler” took in $144,773 at the box office and played to a 53.2-percent-full house with an average ticket price of $30.63, Playbill reported
For Broadway, that admission is a relative bargain. Tickets for other recently opened musicals “If/Then” and “Rocky” are going for roughly double that of “Holler,” starring Saul Williams and former Atlantan Saycon Sengbloh.
The challenge, Leon said Monday, is getting enough conventional and novice Broadway-goers out to see it and build word of mouth.
“The traditional Broadway audience is taking their time to get to it, because they’re like ‘Oh, this is not like “Matilda,” it’s not like those other Broadway musicals, this is something different,'” Leon said. “And the non-traditional audience is taking its time to get there because they’re like, ‘Broadway is not for me. I don’t know if I’m gonna like that.’ But we need folks to come now and to tell Broadway (that) our voices need to be heard.”
Shakur’s songs and poetry — alternately astringent and delicate — are the core of a production, with a book by long-time Leon colleague Todd Kreidler, that is set in a purposely unidentified Midwestern city in the present day. Gun violence is prevalent there, and a recently released inmate (Williams) tries to repair fractured friendships, navigate a love triangle and adapt to life as a free man.
“If we don’t succeed, it’s going to be difficult to do another rap or hip hop show on Broadway,” Gold told Variety.
One influential supporter has stepped forward. Harvard professor and author Henry Louis Gates Jr. penned a recent piece headlined “Broadway Was Made for Tupac” on The Daily Beast website.
Leon currently is in Atlanta, where he opened opposite Phylicia Rashad last week in a revival of “Same Time Next Year” for his True Colors Theatre Company.
“Same Time Next Year” runs through Aug. 3. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays (also at 11 a.m. July 23 and 7 p.m. July 27). $15-$60. The True Colors Theatre Company production is at Southwest Arts Center, 915 New Hope Road, Atlanta. 1-877-725-8849, www.ticketalternative.com, www.truecolorstheatre.org.
At MyAJC.com/living, you’ll find our behind-the-scenes look at “Holler If Ya Hear Me, ” including video interviews with Leon and the cast.
View exclusive AJC behind-the-scenes video of “Holler” here.