Posted: 6:44 pm Sunday, July 13th, 2014

Producers of Kenny Leon-directed ‘Holler’ trying to raise $5 million to keep show on Broadway 

By Howard Pousner

Saul Williams and Saycon Sengbloh in "Holler If Ya Hear Me." CONTRIBUTED BY JOAN MARCUS

Saul Williams and Saycon Sengbloh in “Holler If Ya Hear Me.” CONTRIBUTED BY JOAN MARCUS

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.

ONSTAGE

“Holler If Ya Hear Me” has an open-ended run. Retail price: $59-$139. Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway, New York. 800-745-3000, www.hollerifyahearme.com, www.ticketmaster.com.

“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.

 

8 comments
Calel
Calel

Drive or walk through Times Square after the Broadway shows let out. Those people are the audience Leon needs to keep that show going, and those people have absolutely no interest in a show based on a gangsta rapper. None. The only place a show like this will be a "hit," relatively speaking, is move it to that Tupac center on Memorial Drive, or somewhere near the West End. Also, drop the ticket prices to about $10, and have V-103 give away a massive amount of tickets to show a full audience. Otherwise, the Broadway audience is not interested.

MWilliams40
MWilliams40

This issue is so much bigger than just black people not attending a show because of the ignorance some perceived them to have.  Arts education has been under attack for many years now.  Blame those that cut education budgets as to the lack of appreciation kids (all kids - regardless of race) can develop for the arts in general.  Also, it must be said that productions on Broadway must be supported by a lot of people not just black people.  Yes, the topic may be one that on first glance ignorant individuals would assume only black people would be interested.  I can tell you from the white youth (male and female) who I witness everyday listening to Tupac, Biggie, Jay-Z and any other number of black hip hop artists, this is a topic that resonates with many people - regardless of color.  These patrons of music should be called out to support "Holler" as well.  Check the music in the lives of the young people you know.  You may be surprised.


Now here is the really important point, it is not up to you to determine what someone else feels is art.  From some of the comments below, I am sure you, yourself would not have considered anything Tupac spoke to be art - or at least art in the narrow way in which it is defined by you.  History is filled with under-appreciated, talented artists, because those who claimed to be art aficionados failed to see the beauty in what those artists produced.  Don't be judgmental. It's not a good look - and it goes against everything true art represents.


PS - Thank you Spelman College for helping me become the true well-rounded, social program supporting, art-loving, Christ-devoted, woman - no, human being (!!) - that I have become.  Keep sending those pledge forms and I will keep filling them out.  


PPS - Now, I wonder if KFC will be open after tomorrow night's Beyonce/Jay-Z concert ... Hmmmmm 

The_SAWB
The_SAWB

Why keep a show open if it’s losing money? Obviously the creators think it has value, but apparently not enough people agree. If someone wants to donate money to prop up a loser they can, but sometimes you just have to accept the reality - that no one wants to see your show.

Nomad_fisherman
Nomad_fisherman

In the Atl,the support the Colonel. You can see them driving down the road throwing the bones out of the sunroof of the Mercedes.

A culture with wacked values,they cheat their own children out of an education.

Nomad_fisherman
Nomad_fisherman

Maybe they can get the money from Obama ? He can create a federal mandate that they can get the money due to a minoriity cause or maybe someone like Al Sharpton,Jesse Jackson,or Maxine Waters will donate the money ?

Kenny Leon is a super talented guy,but sorry,black folks aren't lining up to spend money unless it's the latest pair of Jordan's or maybe a Beyonce & Jay Z concert. They do not support anything of refined culture,entertainment,product,unless of course you count making payments on a Mercedes or BMW.