Kenny Leon is arguably Broadway’s great black hope.
The theater director has garnered a reputation for bringing black stories center stage, directing Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and works by August Wilson, including Gem of the Ocean and Fences.
For Leon’s next act, the director will tell a different story about black America, using the work of a well-known but controversial black writer. It’s Leon’s first musical, according to the Wall Street Journal, and is inspired by the work of late rapper Tupac Shakur.
“Holler If Ya Hear Me” is a musical based on the work of the late rap artist Tupac Shakur. Leon calls it an “unconditional love story,” and an “anti-violence story” that isn’t a biography of Tupac’s life. It simply uses Tupac’s music.
“Some people look at hip-hop and they think they hate everything black or they think they hate everything that uses profanity, or they think it’s about gun violence,” Leon said, calling Tupac a “prophet.”
2Pac died in 1996 from gunshot wounds at the age of 25, but since his death, numerous albums and music have been released. His song “Changes,” which was released in 1998, is the only rap song to be nominated for a Grammy Award after the artist’s death.
All eyes will be on Leon to see if the director can handle a musical as well as he’s handled stage plays.
Leon said he tinkered with some of the music, but didn’t need to change much, and then set it to an American drama, adding that he was given the blessing of Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur, who is a producer on the show with Eric Gold. Todd Kreidler wrote the book and Wayne Cilento handled the show’s choreography.
“[Tupac] was just trying to talk about life and say something about the country and being an American and raising a family here,“ Leon said.