Tag: August Wilson

Tupac Shakur’s Songs Fuel Broadway Musical ‘Holler if Ya Hear Me’ Opening June 19 at Palace Theater

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Saul Williams, center, in “Holler if Ya Hear Me.” (Credit Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

In the spring of 2001, Todd Kreidler met his boss, the playwright August Wilson, for breakfast at the Cafe Edison, as was their custom. Mr. Kreidler was assisting Wilson as he brought his play “King Hedley II” to Broadway, but really he was there to learn whatever Wilson wanted to teach him. And that morning, the subject was Tupac Shakur.

After a bit of chitchat, Wilson was exasperated with his charge. “You don’t really know ‘Dear Mama,’ ” he said, referring to Shakur’s signature ode to his mother. He got up, threw money on the table, marched out the door and to the nearby Virgin Megastore. There, he bought a copy of Shakur’s album “Me Against the World” and pressed it into Mr. Kreidler’s hands.

“There’s nothing contained in your life that’s not contained in that music,” Wilson told him, Mr. Kreidler recalled. “There’s love, honor, duty, betrayal, love of a people. There’s a whole universe in that music!” He made it clear, with some vulgarities for emphasis, that Mr. Kreidler wasn’t to return to rehearsal until he’d absorbed it all.

Tupac Shakur
Tupac Shakur in 1992. (Credit Eli Reed/Magnum Photos)

So on the day in 2010, when Mr. Kreidler opened a FedEx box with 23 of Shakur’s CDs and two books of his writings, tasked with building from them a musical rooted in that rapper’s words, he was prepared.

The result is “Holler if Ya Hear Me,” which opens at the Palace Theater on June 19, and weaves 21 songs by Shakur (two of which are musically arranged versions of his poems) into a story about a community struggling to pull hope from the grasp of entrenched social ills. Put differently, it’s not a Broadway-ification of Shakur’s life or vision so much as a repurposing of his words into an emotionally felt, family-friendly context.

“It’s a story about unconditional love that uplifts all of his words,” said Kenny Leon, the musical’s director, a veteran of Wilson’s “Fences” and the current “A Raisin in the Sun.” In that, “Holler” has plenty in common with the rest of Broadway, and the creative team was careful in managing how the play handled what Mr. Leon termed “the things that people think they hate” — bad language, guns, violence.

But it’s an open question whether the familiar Broadway audience, or even the middle-class black theatergoers who have been drawn in by “Raisin,” can make room in their hearts and wallets for Shakur’s words. Hip-hop has made it to Broadway before, but the Tony-winning “In the Heights” tested the waters Off Broadway first, and didn’t have to contend with an implied star whom people find controversial even years after his death.

The $8 million production seems to be splitting the difference; opening directly on Broadway — in a prime Times Square location that last housed “Annie,” no less — but after the Tony awards deadline. (Pop-minded shows like “Bring It On – The Musical” have lately taken a similar route.) Though influential producers were invited to the show’s workshops, they by and large declined to invest. Instead, the lead producers are Eric Gold, a longtime Hollywood manager and producer who is new to Broadway, and Shin Chun-soo, a South Korean theater impresario. “I’m prepared to nobly fail or to nobly succeed,” Mr. Gold said.

Murdered in 1996 in a case that’s still unsolved, Shakur remains, even after all these years, one of hip-hop’s most celebrated figures, a radical thug intellectual with an outsize gift for creating his character in real time. He was prolific and contradictory, a child of activists signed, late in his career, to Death Row, the label that mainstreamed gangster rap.

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August Wilson Gets His Wish – Denzel Washington Is Ready To Direct ‘Fences’ For The Screen

 The age-old story on a stalled film adaptation of August Wilson’s award-winning play Fences is that, the playwright insisted to the studio (Paramount Pictures at the time – this was in the late 1980s) that the director of the film be black.  Of course, Paramount didn’t feel that was necessary, stating that they wanted “the best director for the job.” Even Eddie Murphy, who was then attached to star in and co-produce the film adaptation, told Wilson that he wasn’t going to hire a director just because they were black. 

Wilson reiterated that he wasn’t suggesting that a black be director hired simply because they are black, but certainly a black director who was qualified for the job. But this wasn’t a clause in the original agreement between Wilson and Paramount, so the studio wasn’t legally bound to adhere to Wilson’s wishes (however they realized well enough that a film adaptation of Fences without Wilson’s blessing, wasn’t something that they wanted to do). While seeming to be taking Wilson’s wishes under strong consideration, the studio approached Barry Levinson to helm the film; obviously, Levinson isn’t black. 

Needless to say, Wilson didn’t approve. Although Levinson backed away from the project anyway, after he saw the play himself, stating that he didn’t think it would translate well to the screen – at least, not the version of the script that Wilson had written. Wilson’s public objections to a white director helming the project were also of some influence.

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“Walking Dead” Actress Danai Gurira Wins Whiting Writing Award

Danai Gurira, best known for her role of Michonne on AMC’s The Walking Dead, has been awarded the Whiting Writers Award.

For those who may not be familiar, Danai Gurira, who made her Broadway debut in 2010 in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone by August Wilson, is an accomplished playwright in her own right.  She co-wrote In the Continuum with Nikkole Salter which received the Obie Award and Outer Critics Circle Award for writing.  Gurira also received a Helen Hayes Award for her performance in In The Contiuum.  Other work written by Gurira includes Eclipsed and The Convert.

Another woman of color honored was Sharifa Rhodes-Pitt a non-fiction writer.  She graduated from Harvard and was a Fulbright Scholar

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Denzel Crushes “Fences”!

The Denzel Washington-led revival of “Fences” on Broadway is a financial blockbuster in its first week of previews!  To read full details, click here.  Go Denzel!

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