The new Broadway season kicks off with "Holler If Ya Hear Me," a new musical inspired by the lyrics of Tupac Shakur. Time Out New York's David Cote filed the following report for NY1.
In theory, hip-hop ought to have a bigger presence on the Great White Way. Broadway showstoppers have never been short on rhyme, syncopation or rousing sentiment. Practice is a different matter. Rap-rich musicals such as "In the Heights" are rare, and the fusion of hip-hop and razzle-dazzle has been tricky at best and tacky at worst. The latest attempt is "Holler If Ya Hear Me," featuring song of urban protest by Tupac Shakur.
Although show tune purists might wince at Shakur's freewheeling meter and fondness for false rhyme, the real crime against craft is Todd Kreidler's thin, ramshackle book. Both the setting and characters are vague, sketchy and broad as cartoons.
Our protagonist is ex-convict turned illustrator John, played by the talented Saul Williams, who has smoldering charisma and rap-vocal chops, but practically nonexistent character. John's enraged return to thug life is as unconvincing as his last-minute rejection of it. As a good-natured drug dealer, baby-faced Christopher Jackson is smoothness incarnate, but he can't deepen his role, either. And Tonya Pinkins, as yet another long-suffering mother, is simply wasted.
Director Kenny Leon does what he can with a hard-working ensemble, Daryl Waters' lively orchestrations and Wayne Cilento's fly dance routines.
No doubt, the cast and crew deserve respect for bringing Shakur's verbal pyrotechnics and political rage before a new audience, but "Holler" is a shapeless mix of melodrama, music video and half-grasped musical clichés. I honestly wish there were more to shout about.