“Holler If Ya Hear Me” Closes Early On Broadway

holler if ya hear meAmbitious to Begin With

Holler If Ya Hear Me, the Tupac Shakur inspired musical that has been running on Broadway since June 2, 2014, closes today on Broadway – July 20, 2014 – after just 17 preview performances and 38 regular performances.  In the first place, the producers were taking a gamble because they elected to open a new musical at the start of the summer season, just after the excitement had died down after the Tony Awards.  This was certainly not the exception to prove the rule that it is a better bet to open at the height of the fall or spring seasons.  Second of all, the subject matter of the musical and the hip hop genre are unusual for Broadway.  Though Tupac Shakur is a huge household name, his audience doesn’t exactly correspond with the usual Broadway demographic.  It is admirable for producers to aim to reinvent the Broadway demographic, but it doesn’t just happen automatically.  Unfortunately, despite noble attempts at marketing and promotional efforts, this production did not crack the code for expanding the Broadway audience.

A Financial Failure

It is very possible that, given more time to reach its audience, the show could have sustained itself financially and reached a plateau where it was inching towards profitability.  However, the economics of Broadway dictate a very high floor for running costs, and in fact the theatre landlord can invoke a stop clause to force any production out of its house that is not making a certain minimum gross each week.  In the first six weeks of its run, Holler If Ya Hear Me did not gross over $163,586 in any week.  That number was only 18.32% of the show’s potential gross.  With a comparatively modest budget of $8 million, the show would still require a much higher gross in order to remain open.  The producers were forced to discount significantly, and therefore the average ticket price was generally around $30 to $35, which is exceedingly low for Broadway.  The lead producer Eric L. Gold admitted in Variety that he made a “rookie mistake” in misunderstanding the capital required to sustain a Broadway show.

Kenny Leon’s Latest Show

Holler If Ya Hear Me is the newest show directed by Kenny Leon, the exceedingly prolific director of African American content on holler if ya hear me castBroadway.  However, Mr. Leon has just as many hits as misses, with his repertoire including the vastly successful 2014 revival of A Raisin in the Sun and 2010’s Fences both starring Denzel Washington, as well as the flops Stick Fly and his 2004 revival of A Raisin in the SunHoller If Ya Hear Me has book by Todd Kreidler, who has worked with Leon before in an assistant directing capacity, and music orchestrated from Tupac Shakur’s repertoire.  The musical’s cast included Saul Williams making his Broadway debut, as well as New York theatre regular Tonya Pinkins.  The show opened on June 19, 2014 to fairly negative reviews, which did not sustain the already floundering musical.  Though closure was not immediately announced, the general critical consensus was that this musical would not last long.

“Holler if Ya Hear Me” Opens on Broadway

“Holler if Ya Hear Me” Negative Reviews Will Not Help Low Box Office Figures

The Tupac Shakur inspired musical Holler if Ya Hear Me had its official opening on June 19, 2014 at the Palace Theatre, after running for 17 preview performances.  In the weeks approaching the opening night, upon which the critical response would be publicized to the masses, ticket sales were abominably low.  With an average weekly ticket price ranging between $24.10 and $32.84, the show only managed to bring in at the most $170,652 a week in its first three weeks of running.  These numbers were so dire, in fact, that one of the producers was quoted as saying that the musical would close just over a week after opening if the reviews were poor.  The reviews are in, and they are well below positive.  However, the production has made no official announcement of closing in the timeframe that they had supposedly specified.  Still, it is doubtful if the show will be able to stay afloat for much longer with these low numbers, coupled with the negative reviews.

holler if ya hear meVeteran Director Kenny Leon Did Not Save This Show

Holler if Ya Hear Me is written by Todd Kreidler and directed by Kenny Leon, with lyrics by Tupac Shakur, and the music arranged and orchestrated by Daryl Waters.  Leon is also behind the acclaimed and Tony Award winning revival of A Raisin in the Sun that just concluded performances this season.  However, Holler if Ya Hear Me was much less well received.  Charles Isherwood of The New York Times gave it a fairly negative review, criticizing the show for being relentless and heavy-handed in driving home its tragic themes.  The Hollywood Reporter called the show well-intentioned but toothless, and Time Out New York, NBC, and Associated Press were all on the fence but certainly not singing the praises of this tuner.  In general, critics were appreciative of the performances, especially the star Saul Williams making his Broadway debut.  They also enjoyed the beats and the music, but reviewers were less in favor of the uneven narrative storytelling and the ramshackle method of re-appropriating Tupac’s songs for the stage.

A Summer Hip Hop Musical Was A Long Shot All Along

The show was already a long-shot for success on Broadway for a number of reasons, and these reviews will certainly not help attract audiences to the struggling production.  For one, it opened in the summer after the Tony Awards, when no other shows are opening.  There is a reason for this, and it is because most summer tourists tend to choose a long-running musical, or a recent Tony Award winning hit, rather than a new show they have barely heard about.  Furthermore, its demographic is a tough one for Broadway.  According to Michael Riedel of The New York Post, a veteran producer was quoted as saying that the show would fail because the average theatre ticket buyers are middle-aged women, who are generally not familiar with the music of Tupac.  In general, he said, it would be tough for a rap musical to make it on Broadway, especially when there is not a Hollywood star leading the cast.

holler if ya hear me cast

This is unfortunate, as hip hop has been mainstream for quite a while, and it is a shame that Broadway has not reached the point where it can be representative of the nation as a whole.  Perhaps this is because Broadway prices out many of the individuals who would have enjoyed a show about Tupac, or maybe it is because the attempt to bridge these two art forms was misguided in the first place.  In any case, the show will most likely not be open for much longer, even if it is still hanging on a week after opening.

“A Raisin in the Sun” Concludes Performances

An Unequivocal Success

Kenny Leon’s acclaimed revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun played its final performance at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre last night: Sunday, June 15, 2014.  Starring Denzel Washington as Walter Lee Younger, this production took home three Tony Awards last weekend: those for Best Revival of a Play, Best Director of a Play (Kenny Leon), and Best Featured Actress in a Play (Sophie Okonedo).  This was the most wins for any straight play at this year’s Tony Awards, and the show was also nominated for an additional two acting awards: those for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play (LaTanya Richardson Jackson), and Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play (Anika Noni Rose).  Though Denzel Washington was not nominated, Kenny Leon, in accepting his Tony Award, made it clear he believed this was a snub.  After all, Washington received unqualified praise for his performance, and he furthermore won the Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play for 2010’s Fences, also directed by Leon.

Successful Recoupment of Capitalization

The run was by all measures successful, as the producers announced last week that the play managed to recoup its entire a raisin in the sun castcapitalization, which is reported to be $4.25 million.  This is a very large cost for a straight play with a limited engagement, but the investment, as well as the profit potential, was significantly upped due to the star casting of Denzel Washington, whose innumerable fans reliably flock to the theatre for the opportunity to see him in live performance.  The recoupment is especially impressive given the briefness of the play’s run, which totaled only 85 performances in addition to 27 preview performances since it began on March 8, 2014 (the official opening was April 3, 2014).  This achievement was only possible due to the high demand for tickets, which allowed premium pricing and very limited discounting.  The entire run was sold out, the average ticket price each week was generally over $140, and the top ticket price for premium seats was $348.  In general, the weekly gross reached around 110% of its potential (due to premium pricing), and each weekly gross was almost without exception over $1.1 million.

Solidifying Its Place In History

This is the third time A Raisin in the Sun has played on Broadway.  The premiere was in 1959, marking the first time a play written by a black woman was seen on Broadway.  The first revival was in 2004, also directed by Kenny Leon.  Though that production won two Tony Awards (Best Actress for Phylicia Rashad, and Best Featured Actress for Audra McDonald), it did not win the award for Best Revival (though it was nominated), nor was Kenny Leon nominated for the award he would win in 2014: Best Director.  Critics discussed how this production was a significantly more mature achievement than Leon’s first attempt, which may justify the difference in awards reception.  This production also had the honor of being attended by the President of the United States, Barack Obama, and his family.  On Friday, April 11, 2014, West 47th Street was swarming was security guards, as the first family made its way to the theatre.  Barack and Michelle Obama also had attended a revival of August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone in 2009, and Michelle had taken her daughters to the musicals Memphis and The Addams Family.

All in all, this production was a crowning achievement for its producers, who make up a great selection of the producing society of Broadway, including Scott Rudin, Roger Berlind, Jon Platt, Scott Delman, Roy Furman, Stephanie McClelland, Ruth Hendel, Sonia Friedman, and Daryl Roth.  In this light, it was actually a success for the Broadway community as a whole, pumping much needed blood into the life of quality-driven productions on Broadway.

The Winners Are In For The 68th Annual Tony Awards!

Hugh Jackman Hosts, Many Tune In

On Sunday, June 8, 2014, the Tony Awards were held at Radio City Music Hall.  As anticipated, they were a gigantic success, and Hugh Jackman received enormous praise for his hosting prowess.  Much discussion was had about Jackman’s very bouncy opening number, which was as aerobic as it was silly, but still it was a very fun way to start the show.  This is the fourth time that Jackman has hosted the event, while another frequent host Neil Patrick Harris took home the award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical for his role as Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.  Though that category was pretty much considered to be a shoe-in, many other winners took the audience and theatre fans worldwide by surprise.  The ceremony was also full of spectacular performances by nominated shows.  7.02 million viewers tuned in to watch the live telecast on CBS, which was a dip from last year’s ratings of 7.24 million viewers.  Unlike other awards shows, there was no official online live stream of the event, but still many people have been watching online clips since the event’s original airing.

a gentleman's guide to love and murder a new musical comedyTied for the Most Wins: A Gentleman’s Guide and Hedwig and the Angry Inch

As many predicted, the Tony Award for Best Musical went home with A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, a sleeper hit that beat strong odds to win this coveted award.  This show also earned the award for Best Direction of a Musical for Darko Tresnjak, the artistic director of Hartford Stage where the show first premiered.  He is the first Connecticut artistic director ever to win a Tony Award, and the first Broadway transfer for that theatre since 2003’s Enchanted AprilA Gentleman’s Guide also took home the awards for Best Book of a Mhedwig and the angry inch neil patrick harris titleusical (Robert L. Freedman) and Best Costume Design of a Musical (Linda Cho), which tied it for the most wins: four.  The other show to win four awards was Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which took home the award for Best Revival of a Musical, as well as Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical for Neil Patrick Harris.  Furthermore, Hedwig earned the award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for Lena Hall, who played a female to male drag character Yitzhak, as well as Best Lighting Design of a Musical (Kevin Adams).

A Raisin in the Sun, Twelfth Night, Lady Day, All the Way, and all the rest

The most awards for a straight play went to A Raisin in the Sun, which earned three: Best Revival of a Play, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play (Sophie Okonedo), and Best Direction of a Play (Kenny Leon).  This is Leon’s first Tony win; he was also nominated for 2010’s Fences, which like Raisin starred Denzel Washington.  In his acceptance speech, Leon made it clear that he believes Washington was snubbed in not receiving a nomination for his role.  Another winning play was Twelfth Night, which took home two awards: Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play (Mark Rylance as Olivia), and Best Costume Design of a Play (Jenny Tiramani).  This is Mark Rylance’s third Tony win, and the first time his acceptance speech did not consist of a poem by Louis Jenkins.  In addition, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill took home two awards: Best Performance by anTwelfth Night Shakespeare play poster Actress in a Leading Role in a Play (Audra McDonald), and Best Sound Design of a Play (Steve Canyon Kennedy).  At the age of only 43, this is Audra McDonald’s record-setting sixth Tony win, and she is also now the only person to have earned a Tony Award in all four acting categories.  Finally, Robert Schenkkan’s All the Way took home the award for Best Play, and Bryan Cranston earned the award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play for portraying Lyndon B. Johnson in that play.

Beautiful Broadway ShowThe award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical went to Jessie Mueller for portraying Carole King in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which also took home the award for Best Sound Design of a Musical (Brian Ronan).  The Bridges of Madison County was the only nominated musical not to perform at the event, and yet it earned two awards for Jason Robert Brown: Best Original Score (he wrote the music and lyrics), and also Best Orchestrations.  Rocky won the award for Best Scenic Design of a Musical (Christopher Barreca), and After Midnight won the award for Best Choreography (Warren Carlyle).  Act One took home the award for Best Scenic Design of a Play (Beowulf Boritt), and Aladdin earned the award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical (James Monroe Iglehart).  The Glass Menagerie took home the award for Best Lighting Design of a Play (Natasha Katz), which is the first time this play has ever earned a Tony Award of the course of its seven productions across history.

The shows that were nominated but failed to win any awards were Bullets over Broadway, Cabaret, Casa Valentina, The Cripple of Inishmaan, If/Then, Les Misérables, Machinal, Mothers and Sons, A Night with Janis Joplin, Of Mice and Men, Outside Mullingar, Richard III, The Velocity of Autumn, and Violet.  Still, this was a year in which no show earned more than four awards, with the winners being fairly well dispersed.  In any case, the winners will surely see a box office boost from their Tony Awards, most notably A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which will most certainly attract many more theatregoers now that it has taken home the honor of Best Musical.

2014 Tony Award Winners:

A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER - 4 Tony Awards
Best Musical
Best Book of a Musical (Robert L. Freedman)
Best Direction of a Musical (Darko Tresnjak)
Best Costume Design of a Musical (Linda Cho)

HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH - 4 Tony Awards
Best Revival of a Musical
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical (Neil Patrick Harris)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical (Lena Hall)
Best Lighting Design of a Musical (Kevin Adams)

A RAISIN IN THE SUN - 3 Tony Awards
Best Revival of a Play
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play (Sophie Okonedo)
Best Direction of a Play (Kenny Leon)

ALL THE WAY - 2 Tony Awards
Best Play (Author: Robert Schenkkan)
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play (Bryan Cranston)

BEAUTIFUL-THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL - 2 Tony Awards
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical (Jessie Mueller)
Best Sound Design of a Musical (Brian Ronan)

THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY - 2 Tony Awards
Best Original Score Written for the Theatre (Music & Lyrics: Jason Robert Brown)
Best Orchestrations (Jason Robert Brown)

LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR & GRILL - 2 Tony Awards
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play (Audra McDonald)
Best Sound Design of a Play (Steve Canyon Kennedy)

TWELFTH NIGHT – 2 Tony Awards
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play (Mark Rylance)
Best Costume Design of a Play (Jenny Tiramani)

ACT ONE – 1 Tony Award
Best Scenic Design of a Play (Beowulf Boritt)

AFTER MIDNIGHT – 1 Tony Award
Best Choreography (Warren Carlyle)

ALADDIN - 1 Tony Award
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play (James Monroe Iglehart)

THE GLASS MENAGERIE - 1 Tony Award
Best Lighting of a Play (Natasha Katz)

ROCKY – 1 Tony Award
Best Scenic Design of a Musical (Christopher Barreca)

Tupac Shakur Musical “Holler if Ya Hear Me” Begins Previews

“Holler if Ya Hear Me”, Inspired By The Late Tupac Shakur, Begins Previews On Broadway

Tupac Shakur is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold over 75 million records in his career.  His albums include “2Pacalypse Now,” “Until the End of Time,” “All Eyez on Me,” “Me Against the World,” and “Pac’s Life.”  The life of this brilliant rapper and actor was cut short in 1996, however, when he was shot multiple times in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas at the age of only 25.  Despite the brevity of his career, he has managed to maintain a huge following and long-standing appreciation, with Rolling Stone Magazine having recently proclaimed him the 86th Greatest Artist of All Time.  The themes of Tupac’s music often involve the hardship of the life in inner cities, as well as racism and other social issues; both of his parents were members of the Black Panther Party.  Tupac’s legacy has been upheld through organizations, honors, and multiple documentaries, but for the first time, his music and story are coming to Broadway.

holler if ya hear meOpening  scheduled for June 19, 2014 at the Palace Theatre on Broadway

On June 2, 2014, Holler if Ya Hear Me, a new musical inspired by the music of Tupac Shakur, will begin previews at the Palace Theatre.  With an opening night scheduled for June 19, 2014, the musical is presently set for an open-ended run.  The show is directed by Kenny Leon, whose magnificent career has sky-rocketed in recent years to define him as the preeminent interpreter of African American content for the Broadway stage.  The book was written by Todd Kreidler, who has served as Dramaturg for two Broadway productions directed by Leon and written by August Wilson – Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf – and who also associate directed another Leon-Wilson collaboration: Fences starring Denzel Washington in 2010.  This is the first time, however, that Kreidler has stepped up to a major position on the creative team of one of Kenny Leon’s productions.  The choreography is by Wayne Cilento (The Who’s Tommy, Wicked).

The Show borrows “Holler if Ya Hear Me” from Tupac’s Second Album

The title of this musical comes from the name of a song on Tupac’s second studio album.  The story is not exactly a biographical depiction of the late singer’s life, however; it is a fictional tale of a young black man who is released from prison, only to face a continued slew of obstacles that lie in his path.  It uses the phrases and ideas found in Tupac’s music to tell this universal tale of friendship, family, love, and hope.  The musical received a 5-week workshop last summer in anticipation of its Broadway run this season.  The show is produced by Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur, along with Eric L. Gold, Chunsoo Shin, Jessica Green, and Marcy Kaplan-Gold.  The large cast is made up mostly of ensemble, but it also includes actors such as Tonya Pinkins (Caroline or Change, Radio Golf) and the principal young man is played by actor and rapper Saul Williams, making his Broadway debut.

The Show Is Geared For A Wide Demographic, But Socially Conscious

The intention of the show is socially conscious, which is an unusual first motive for Broadway shows, especially thostupac shakure opening in the summer season, generally known for lighter fare such as Beatles revues and long-running shows.  However, Leon and his cast will not shy away from shining a light on important issues at the heart of the contradictions in American society.  Geared for a wide demographic of all ages and colors, the show will nevertheless aim to expose the hypocrisy of free speech in present day American culture.  Thankfully, the prominent voice kept alive through Tupac’s music will now find another outlet on the Broadway stage.

“A Raisin in the Sun” Opens on Broadway

On April 3, 2014, a new revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s groundbreaking 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun opened at Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theatre, the same house where the play ran in its first production.  Directed by Kenny Leon, who has become the go-to theatre director for African American content, the play received largely unqualified rave reviews from critics far and wide.  With a superb cast led by mega movie star Denzel Washington as Walter Lee Younger, the production succeeded in proving the timelessness of Hansberry’s masterwork.

A Raisin in the Sun with Denzel Washington on BroadwayThis is the play’s second revival on Broadway, following the original 1959 production.  In 2004, Kenny Leon also served as director for the show.  According to The New York Times theatre critic Ben Brantley, Leon made new choices in the 2014 revival, justifying his return to directing the same play only a decade later.  He stated that this production “feels far more of a whole” than the 2004 revival, as the relaxed approach he takes in the new revival is emotionally very compelling.  Furthermore, in 2012, Bruce Norris’ clever riff off of this play, Clybourne Park, played on Broadway to great acclaim, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama as well as the Tony Award for Best Play.

The 2004 production of A Raisin in the Sun was the Broadway directing debut for Kenny Leon, who served as the artistic director of Atlanta’s True Colors Theatre Company from 1988 to 2000.  Since his first Broadway credit, Leon has directed numerous Broadway shows featuring a primarily African American cast, including three plays by August Wilson: Gem of the Ocean in 2004-5, Radio Golf in 2007, and Fences in 2010, the last of which also starred Denzel Washington in a sold-out hit run.  Furthermore, he helmed The Mountaintop starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett as well as Stick Fly, both in the 2011-2 fall season.  Following A Raisin in the Sun, Leon will direct a second show also in this spring season, the musical inspired by the songs of Tupac Shakur, Holler If Ya Hear Me.

When Lorraine Hansberry wrote A Raisin in the Sun, she was the first African American woman to have a play produced on Broadway.  The play was nominated for four 1960 Tony Awards, including Best Play, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Direction.  It was also named the Best Play of 1959 by the New York Drama Critics’ Circle.  This new revival holds promise to match up to the success of the play’s premiere.  In addition to receiving laudatory notices from a slew of major publications, the play is well on its way to entering financial profits.  The play has reached 100% capacity for every week thus far, crossing the million dollar mark for its past two weeks of grosses, which is a serious feat for a straight play.  After all, Mr. Washington is not your average Hollywood star.  He has consistently garnered well-deserved respect due to his extreme talent along with his humility, a rare combination at his level of fame.