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Thursday, June 5, 2014 - 8:45am

Holler If Ya Hear Me: Broadway’s Newest Production Has Ties To Georgia

One of the newest musicals opening up on Broadway has ties to Georgia.

The musical “Holler If Ya Hear Me”, based on the music of rapper Tupac Shakur, opened in previews the night of June 2 at the Palace Theatre in New York City.

“Holler” is the latest broadway production directed by Kenny Leon, who makes his home and established his theatre credentials as artistic director of the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta.

The musical is Leon’s second Broadway show this season. He’s been nominated for a Tony for best director of Raisin In The Sun starring Denzel Washington.

On The Story’s Bill Nigut recently sat down with Leon to talk to him about “Holler If You Hear Me” and his work in New York Theater.

Interview Highlights

Bill Nigut: What is “Holler If Ya Hear Me”?

Kenny Leon: “Holler If Ya Hear Me” is a wonderful, new broadway musical that Todd Kreidler wrote. And I’ve never seen anything like it. But it’s inspired using the lyrics of Tupac Shakur who was an amazing artist. And what I tried to do is to reveal to the world the artist that is Tupac. {I’m} not interested in the day to day life of Tupac. We’re not developing an auto-biographical story. It’s all just using his lyrics and putting it with Todd Kreidler’s book to give voice to young boys, young men, in America who are being shot… killed daily. It’s also a musical that talks about unconditional love of family, community, and country.

Bill Nigut: Why that song as the title of the show?

Kenny Leon: Well, the title of the show “Holler If Ya Hear Me” which is one of {Tupac’s} songs. But I think Todd chose that as the title because there are a lot of Americans hollering every day to be heard about economics, education, dreams deferred, access to the American Dream… What is most interesting about “Holler If You Hear Me” as a title is the “hear me” part. We look at the “holler” part and the fact that if you look at the New York Times when they list the play, it says “holler”. But really, we’re more interested in the “hear me”. And if most people who are different from each other... if most Americans just took the time to just listen and hear each other and respect each other, then we could learn and grow from that.

Bill Nigut: You’ve become, in many ways, the leading director of African-American Theater on Broadway. But is it correct to assume that the way you direct, you believe that what you’re really doing is telling universal stories, not just stories about the black experience?

Kenny Leon: On Broadway, I don’t look at my work as African-American specific. In fact, I just think I’m a director who’s trying to apply my life learning to the specifics of the story I’m telling. My hope is not that color will dissolve. My hope is that the ideas attached to color and race will dissolve.

Bill Nigut: How does having come out of Atlanta, having been in Georgia for so many years inform your work?

Kenny Leon: That’s a good question, Bill. It informs my work in every way because I think, until you’ve in the South, you don’t know the true America with all of our worts. With all of our rainbows. The good and the bad. Since I was a little boy growing up in Florida, and then coming to school in Georgia, I’ve always been aware of the inequalities, the racism..sexism… But I’ve also seen the beautiful in the churches and one reason I like Atlanta is because it’s a big city, but it’s a small town. I think, growing up in the South, you’re encouraged to educate yourself about our history. And history has played a big part in all of the plays that I’ve done.

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