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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Kenny Leon's Tupac play isn't about Tupac, per se

Holler if you hear Kenny Leon
Holler If Ya Hear Me, Atlanta-based theater director Kenny Leon's Broadway play about Tupac, is set to open June 19 at the Palace Theatre on Broadway. But if you plan on attending to see the rapper physically reincarnated on stage, you might want to peep the play's synopsis first.

Instead of a biographical play about Pac's life, the musical - written by Todd Kreidler, with choreography from Wayne Cilento and music supervision by Daryl Waters - will use Tupac's music to tell the story of two Midwest men and their severed friendship, Leon said in a recent interview with Melissa Ruggieri of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"One of those men spends some time in prison and comes out and wants to change his neighborhood and finds that he really can't change it alone," Leon said. "It's a family story, a love story. If you can, imagine four or five men onstage singing 'Dear Mama,' and what that will sound like. Hopefully, it will change the world."

Leon reportedly worked with Tupac's mother, Afeni Shakur, who serves as a producer but allowed Leon to oversee creative direction.

As for the challenge of translating Tupac's "thug life" vision to Broadway, Leon seems sold on the universality of Pac. The director, who's resume includes extensive productions from August Wilson's 20th-century play cycle and Broadway revivals of such classics as Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun (which starred rap impresario Sean Combs), fell in love with Pac's music about a year before the rapper's 1996 death.

He considers this play, which has been in development for three years, "the greatest artistic challenge" of his life. That's largely because he intends to judge the success of the play on its ability to convey Pac's artistic depth to a broader audience than the one the rapper reached in life, he says.

"If you're over 50, you weren't right in Tupac's group. But what I'm saying to those people is, all those things you think you hate - black, violence, blood - whatever kept you away from his music, pull that back now and see it's a mountain of beauty," Leon said. "I want every white older American to get it. I want every older black American to get it. I want every hip-hop artist to get it. I want every 15-year-old to get it. If you can write something that touches every one of those groups, we have been successful."

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