Sadly, its run has come to an end: Holler If Ya Year Me closed on Sunday after only a few months in front of audiences. While its producer has suggested that its short run was the fault of the “financial burdens of Broadway”, others have suggested that the fact that the musical used Tupac’s music but didn’t actually tell Tupac’s story hobbled it before it could get out of the gates. Its lead actor, Saul Williams, has suggested that there was more at play in an interview with Rolling Stone:
I also cannot go without saying that there was something deeply embedded in a lot of the reviews that went deeper than just a dislike of the play. (x)
Williams suggests that the dislike the musical received in its short life was unfounded; although the story was original fiction and not that of Tupac himself, he points out that its messages about cycles of gun violence and the tragic loss of young Black lives are essentially ripped from the headlines. While the show’s uniqueness should have been a drawing point and its moral lessons a conversation starter, it was often used by critics as a flaw: “don’t go see this show; it’s a downer.”
I did have the chance to see Holler when I was in New York in June. It was an intensely emotional musical, with a lot of heart, interesting set design, kickass costuming, and downright amazing choreography. And Saul Williams absolutely killed it as John, the main character. It was easily the most compelling jukebox musical I’ve ever seen, and was far more memorable and moving than another show I saw that week with a big-name cast. And while I did wish that the show had had a happy ending, neither did I think that the way it ended was any more of a downer than any other sad play on Broadway. Have you heard of my favorite play, Les Misérables? Only like four of a cast of twenty characters survive through the finale of Les Mis, and yet people have been going to see it for decades.
Unfortunately, the average Broadway audience member is a middle-aged white female tourist, and that sort of customer is unlikely to go to New York to see a show whose score is made up of hip-hop music and whose story challenges the viewer’s preconceptions about race, privilege, and justice. I absolutely believe that Williams has hit at the heart of the matter: the show was not the problem. It got standing ovations from the audiences that did see it, my own included, and was an amazing piece of theatre. But I’m also cynically unsurprised that it was received with an insidiously racist disdain.
Does that mean people should stop making shows like this? Of fucking course not. We need more stories that aren’t “peppy white girl falls in love with peppy white guy = comedy”‘ or “melancholic white girl falls in love with sad white guy = tragedy!” on Broadway, but it’s going to be an uphill struggle. I commend the cast of Holler for going out and giving a hundred percent every night in the face of that struggle, and hope that it is revived sooner rather than later, whether as a touring show or off-Broadway or anywhere. I’ll leave you with this promotional clip from the show so you can get a taste of just how awesome it was.