Rarely does a play come along that leaves you feeling like you know the characters well. ‘Holler If Ya Hear Me’ makes you feel like you are on your front steps back home in your “hood” watching. You know the guys. You heard the stories, but now, see how it all plays out on a stage.
‘Holler If Ya Hear Me’ captures all the horror, struggle and heartbreak in a world where love can’t be counted on and where life is nasty, brutish, and appallingly short. These characters made me sympathize and realize that the notion that freedom and peace can exist but must be guided if left in the wrong hands you get mayhem.The story centers on John (Saul Williams), an ex-con who’s released from prison to his dicey neighborhood and attempts to turn over a new leaf. He gets a job working at the local garage run by Griffy (Ben Thompson), a white boy with soul, and spends his downtime writing poetry and drawing at his ramshackle apartment in lieu of gang-banging with Vertus (Christopher Jackson) and his other friends from the block. No character needs or wants your sympathy on the stage. These are not caged birds, but strong survivors. If there was a sense of faked drama for sake of pity, or for an emotional tear jerking drive, the play would have a tone of contrived sympathy and no viewer would care for it. That is not the case here. The writer does not need that type of sympathy. If he used it, the play would have been reduced to pure chaos and would have failed to portray an American ideal of freedom. These young people are free by virtue of survival.
For those who come from the “hood”, the imagery of life on ‘The Block’ is breathtakingly accurate. I found a reflection of life that I knew well in the hood that I come from on the stage with eerie accuracy. Tupac’s lyrics tell the story and the acting and choreography make you feel the desperation of survival. The friendship of Vertus, Griffy and John make you cheer and long for happy ending. There are a few shocking moments in the play that will cause you to rear your head back and question your preconceived notions of the young men you know. The key high points musically are ‘What’s Next’, ‘The Block’, and ‘Changes,” which brings dance moves that you and your friends can do and will have you wanting to jump up and dance with them as you bop your head.. Griffy’s acoustic version of “Thugz Mansion” is a soulful surprise that is 100% worth the wait!
If you have one chance to see it. You must do just that! Check it out! Watch the rehearsal video below and be moved!
The play stars award-winning slam poet, actor, singer, musician Saul Williams (Slam) as John, Christopher Jackson (After Midnight) as Vertus, Saycon Sengbloh (Motown The Musical, Fela!) as Corinne, Ben Thompson (Matilda) as Griffy, John Earl Jelks (Radio Golf – Tony nomination) as Street Preacher, Joshua Boone (Brownsville Song [b side for Tray] at Actors Theatre of Louisville) as Darius, Dyllon Burnside (“Prison Break”) as Anthony and Tony Award winner Tonya Pinkins (Jelly’s Last Jam, Caroline or Change, Play On!) as Mrs. Weston. The cast also features Tracee Beazer (Memphis), Afi Bijou (Fela!), Mel Charlot (Three-time World Hip Hop Champion), Carrie Compere (Shrek National Tour), Otis Cotton, Ryan Davis (danced for Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj), Brandon Gill (Neighbors at The Public), Ari Groover (Bare Off-Broadway), F. Michael Haynie (Wicked), Jared Joseph (Book of Mormon National Tour), Jahi Kearse (Baby It’s You), Muata Langley (freestyle Krump performer), Candace Maxwell, Valentine Norton (“American Idol”), Christina Sajous (Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark), Charlene “Chi Chi” Smith, Jaime Lincoln Smith (Ruined Off-Broadway), Donald Webber, Jr. (Motown The Musical) and Joaquina Kalukango (Godspell).
The production is directed by Tony Award winning Kenny Leon (A Raisin in the Sun [2004 and 2014], Fences , The Mountaintop) and features a book by Todd Kreidler (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and direction of How I Learned What I Learned). Joining them are Tony Award winning choreographer Wayne Cilento (Wicked, The Who’s Tommy, How to Succeed…, AIDA, Sweet Charity ), and musical supervisor Daryl Waters (Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring In ‘Da Funk, The Color Purple, Memphis). The creative team also includes scenic design by Edward Pierce (The Other Place, Shatner’s World) based on original concepts by David Gallo, projections by Zachary G. Borovay (No Man’s Land, Waiting for Godot), costumes by Reggie Ray (Stick Fly), lighting by Mike Baldassari (Cabaret [1998/2014], First Date), sound by John Shivers (Kinky Boots) and David Patridge (Soul Doctor) and casting by Caparelliotis Casting (Casa Valentina, The Trip to Bountiful).
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