Closing of ‘Holler if Ya Hear Me’ Raises Questions

Source: Charles Isherwood / The New York Times

Sad to say, the only surprise about the closing of “Holler if Ya Hear Me,” the new musical featuring the songs of the rapper Tupac Shakur, was that it didn’t come earlier. When the show opened to downbeat reviews on June 19, many expected it would close within a week.

The production, directed by this year’s Tony winner Kenny Leon (“A Raisin in the Sun”), had been doing dismal business in previews; there were reports that it wouldn’t make it to opening night. After hanging on for a few weeks with no improvement in ticket sales, the producers announced on Monday that the show would end its brief run on Sunday, after just 17 previews and 38 regular performances. Most, if not all, of its $8 million capitalization will be lost.

In an interview he gave to Variety when “Holler” was on the ropes but before the closing announcement, the show’s lead producer, Eric L. Gold, said, “If we don’t succeed, it’s going to be very difficult to do another rap or hip-hop show on Broadway,” suggesting that producers would cite the show’s failure as proof that Broadway audiences — who are overwhelmingly white — resisted “Holler” because they found the music unfamiliar or unappealing.

The truth is that it’s difficult to make a success of just about any big musical on Broadway that doesn’t arrive with either a market-tested brand name, or gushing reviews from London, or both. Shakur, despite selling millions of albums both before and after his death in 1996, is not a name that would naturally resonate with most Broadway audiences. Opening “Holler” cold on Broadway, without a regional theater tryout to work out the kinks (the Alliance Theater in Atlanta, where Mr. Leon was artistic director for more than 10 years, would have been a natural choice), was a risky, ultimately unwise decision. A better show would have had a much better chance of making it.

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