“Holler If Ya Hear Me” Star Saul Williams On The Many Factors That Led To The Musical’s Closure
After only 55 performances, the Tupac Shakur-inspired Broadway musical “Holla If Ya Hear Me” closed last Sunday. The official reason, which came from producer Eric Gold, was the “financial burdens” that come with putting on a show like this. Indeed, ticket sales were clearly a problem. But the star of the show, Saul Williams, the multi-hyphenate performer/poet, attributes the problem to more than just money.
First was the fact that the people selling tickets to tourists were steering them elsewhere. New York has a couple of TKTS booths around the city that sell last-minute tickets to Broadway and off-Broadway shows, many of them to visitors. Williams says someone affiliated with the show overheard the booth operators advising theatergoers that “Holler” was “a bit of a downer.” Still another, Williams tells Rolling Stone, told prospective ticket buyers that the show got “bad reviews.”
Reviews for the show were mixed. Williams says another problem is the way critics lump together Black productions:
“The idea of having a play that centers around, How do you stop the cycles of gun violence in our community? It’s weird to hear someone feel like the story is generic when it’s the front page of every fucking paper to date. And when you look at the reviews and compare them to everything from Do the Right Thing to Menace II Society, it’s always the same fucking review. There’s actually a generic response when I don’t think critics realize they’re playing into the hands of something that runs deeper than how this made you feel.”
More than that, he says American culture had something to do with the show’s inability to gain traction with audiences. “Broadway or America prefers their stories packaged like Rocky at this point. So when we’re onstage with this thing, we knew that it was going to be a struggle and an uphill battle going into it,” he tells the magazine. “There is no disconnect between this and Iggy Azalea, an Australian girl rapping with a southern accent, being Number One on the charts. It’s all related to where we are right now as a culture and within the culture of the arts.”
When we spoke with the musical’s director, Kenny Leon, right before the show opened, he was confident that this show would follow in the footsteps of his previous Tony-winning production of “A Raisin in the Sun,” becoming iconic because of the way it speaks to something that is both immediate and timeless. Williams feels the same way about Tupac’s music, but he begins and ends his Rolling Stone interview noting that Broadway is tough on the bank account. And that it was never going to be an easy for his musical.