Saul Williams Sees “Deeper” Issues Behind Tupac Musical’s Close

Marc Hogan

By Marc Hogan

Lead News Writer
on 07.22.14 in News

Tupac Shakur-inspired Broadway musical Holler If Ya Hear Me closed over the weekend after only a month of performances, and its star has suggested the reasons go beyond the “financial burdens” cited by the producer. Actor/musician/poet Saul Williams, who is already putting the final touches on an upcoming feature film called Dreamstates, told Rolling Stone that everything from negative recommendations by ticket sellers and the overall escapist nature of contemporary Broadway fare helped hasten the 2Pac show’s demise. Most provocatively, though, he brought up race as a factor, going so far as to invoke current pop-chart monarch Iggy Azalea.

Many unfavorable reviews of the play, Williams said, bear striking similarities to the original reviews of Do the Right Thing and Menace II Society. “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,” Williams told RS. “I am speaking to that American race psyche; that thing that Harry Belafonte said to me after he saw the play, which is, ‘You took an afrocentric-themed play and placed it on a eurocentric stage. The problems you’ll face are larger than you think.’”

Williams invoked broader cultural questions again when reminded that Holler‘s producer, Eric Gold, had blamed the “financial burdens of Broadway” for the show’s closing. “In the email he sent me a few days ago, Eric said, ‘Look, you’ve done every fucking outlet and have had every type of review and all the media behind us in particular ways and I don’t get it. Basically, I’m starting to think that there’s some deeper sociological reasoning behind this.’” And that’s where I am,” Williams told RS. “I think it’s something deeper. 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.”

The vendors at Broadway’s TKTS ticket-selling booths, Williams said, had been steering customers away from the show, to the point that Holler formed a street team to counteract the negative promotion. And he acknowledged that the show’s story of an ex-con trying to turn his life around wasn’t an easy fit for Broadway, which, as he put it, “prefers their stories packaged like Rocky at this point.”

Still, Williams insisted that theatergoers haven’t seen the last of shows like Holler. He told RS, “More hip-hop musicals are inevitable if Broadway wishes to survive.”

Watch Williams’ recent interview on The Colbert Report below.