If real estate is all about location, then theater depends on advertising. With good marketing, a show can generate word of mouth and increase ticket sales, but sadly, the marketing for Holler if Ya Hear Me fails to fulfill its job. The advertising stresses its connection with hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur, somewhat ignoring a large demographic of theater-goers.
Shakur, gunned down when he was only 25, is ranked 86 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time.” Influenced politically by his parents, who were members of the Black Panthers, he wrote music about the violence of inner cities and racism. However, he also wrote about the strength of women and the powerful influence women have on the men around them.
Holler If Ya Hear Me isn’t his story, but it does tell of a young man, John, (Saul Williams) recently released from prison after six years. Despite his best intentions, John is reclaimed by his environment. By the end, there is gunfire and death.
Initially I wasn’t excited about seeing the show since I’m not a fan of hip-hop and rap music. However, I’m glad I went. The performances, especially from Tonya Pinkins (as the mother) and Christopher Jackson (Vertus) were quite good. The dancing was exciting and the lyrics were terrific. Too often however, the words were hard to understand. Williams was either talking too fast or not speaking clearly. But when the others spoke and/or sang the lyrics, they were impressive. Shakur shows reverence and respect for women and Saycon Sengbloh as Corrine, John’s girlfriend, is also portrayed as a strong character.
With definite parallels to In the Heights, Rent, and West Side Story, Holler If Ya Hear Me has messages that are powerful and lyrics that are meaningful, so why aren’t people buying tickets? Though some critics claim the book is weak, it’s passable. One problem may be the emphasis on Shakur, which may not be a draw for those not already fans.
Or maybe, as with real estate, the problem was opening the show on Broadway. Off-Broadway offers more intimate seating at much more affordable prices. Perhaps then it would have generated word of mouth. In The Heights began off-Broadway and so did Rent. So maybe the key to successful theater is more than marketing; it is also location.