Broadway just wasn’t down with a Tupac Shakur musical that wasn’t actually about the slain rapper.
“Holler If Ya Hear Me,” the rap musical inspired by Tupac’s lyrics and poetry, will have its final performance on Sunday at the Palace Theatre – just one month after opening.
Headlined by poet Saul Williams, the production featured the late rapper’s presence throughout, with arrangements of hits such as "Keep Ya Head Up," “Me Against the World,” “Dear Mama” and the title song.
But there was no Tupac.
Show creators weren’t granted the rights to his biographical narrative. Instead the show used the lyrics from the rapper – he was killed in 1996 at the age of 25 – to score a fictionalized story of a young man who returns to his inner-city block after getting out of prison.
The musical hoped to tell a broader tale of racial and social injustice.
“When you take away the thing people think they don't like, you’re just left with the words and the ideas,” director Kenny Leon told Times reporter Steven Zeitchik ahead of the show's opening. “If you focus on the artist that is Tupac and not the public persona, you'll see the universal themes.”
When the show officially opened last month, reviews were unkind and there was even speculation that show producers would pull the plug before opening night due to low turnout. “Holler If Ya Hear Me” played just 17 previews and 38 regular performances.
Variety called the fictional story “vague and unspecific.” The New York Times review described the production as "heartfelt but heavy-handed, as it punches home its message with a relentlessness that may soon leave you numb to the tragic story it's trying to tell." Newsday felt the run of the show was "jumping through hoops to move from one stellar performance from the cast to the next."
Ticket sales, like the reviews, were mediocre at best, with roughly 55 percent of its seats going unsold.
During its six week run, the show failed to get close to pulling in $200,000, likely due to the average paid ticket being between $24 and $45 (the top seats were at $173), according to figures posted by the Broadway League.
Fans in search of a dramatized account of the slain rapper’s life will have to continue to wait for the long gestating biopic, which picked up renewed energy earlier this year when it was announced John Singleton had signed on to rewrite, produce and direct.
The film is expected to chronicle Shakur’s prolific rise as a rapper and actor, his infamous legal troubles, his time at Death Row Records and, of course, his death in a 1996 Las Vegas shooting, which came at the height of the bitter East Coast-West Coast rap rivalry.
A legal battle between Morgan Creek Productions and Shakur’s mother, Afeni, over creative control was among the project's many delays. Both parties eventually settled, and Afeni will serve as an executive producer on the film (she also served as a producer on the failed Broadway show).
Shakur’s extensive music catalog will be featured in the film, which is reportedly in pre-production and set to hit theaters next year.