A rare, not to say quixotic, attempt to bring rap music into the Broadway mainstream, Holler If Ya Hear Me will close Sunday at the Palace Theatre after 17 previews and 38 regular performances. Embedding the music of murdered poet and rapper Tupac Shakur into a tale of struggle to find dignity on mean streets, Holler featured a strong ensemble cast led by what, under happier circumstances, would have been a star-making performance by hip-hop poet and rapper Saul Williams.
The show was staged by Kenny Leon, who had just had a triumph directing a Broadway revival of A Raisin in The Sun starring Denzel Washington. Capitalized at about $8 million, the show lost money every week. Last week it took in just $154,948, or 17% of its gross potential, while playing to houses that were less than half-full in a legendary theater whose seating capacity already had been reduced by hundreds of seats for the show.
The musical, which opened in June, features over 20 Shakur songs, including the title number, ”California Love,” “I Get Around,” “Thugz Mansion,” “Keep Ya Head Up,” “Dear Mama,” “Me Against the World,” “Unconditional Love” and “Hail Mary.” Time magazine’s Richard Zoglin called the show “a bold effort to open up Broadway to a new musical idiom, without diluting it or reducing it to a cartoon. The show hollers, and you simply have to listen.”
In a statement released Monday evening, lead producer Eric L. Gold said, “We are so proud to be a part of this ground breaking production. The cast, musicians, production and creative teams gave more than just their professional excellence but contributed their passion as well…It saddens me that due to the financial burdens of Broadway, I was unable to sustain this production longer in order to give it time to bloom on Broadway. Tupac’s urgent socially important insights and the audiences’ nightly rousing standing ovations deserve to be experienced by the world.”
Nevertheless, Holler failed to inspire the kind of must-see word-of-mouth that any show, but especially one handicapped by mixed reviews, needs to generate in order to survive. Instead, the show will close at a total financial loss.