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HOLLER IF YA HEAR ME

Saul Williams as John and Saycon Sengbloh as Corinne in “Holler If You Hear Me.”
Photo by Joan Marcus
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Nearly 18 years after his violent death, rap icon Tupac Shakur is having a major impact on the lives of inner city youth through the Broadway show based on his lyrics and poetry. The 150-minute show is being staged at the Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway.

Producers of “Holler If Ya Hear Me” extended tickets to 14 young men, members of the community program Project Longevity. (The producers have also invited more than 400 guests from Most Valuable Kids and other community groups.) The gang members and troubled youth recently saw the musical—which stars renowned slam poet, actor, singer and musician Saul Williams as an ex-con who returns to his block to change his life and winds up changing his community—and say it has inspired a real sense of brotherhood, proving that #tupaclives.

The young men recently got the experience of a lifetime—many seeing a Broadway show for the first time—when they attended the Kenny Leon-directed musical, which has a strong anti-gun violence message. They are participants of Project Longevity, a community and law enforcement initiative that has been working to reduce gun violence in three Connecticut cities (Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford) since 2012. Through the project, community members join forces with law enforcement officials to help the youth “put down the guns and stop the killing”—a theme heard in much of Shakur’s music. The impact of the first hip-hop musical on Broadway in getting across this powerful message was immediate and unequivocal.

“All of you deserve an award for bringing this to Broadway. Perhaps the best quote of the night from one of the guys was ‘we left Bridgeport as strangers and we returned as brothers,’ this coming from guys who won’t associate with one another on the street. I have been a prosecutor for 18 years and I have never witnessed anything like I saw last night,” said a federal prosecutor.

“The best part of the evening was to hear these men express how they intend to bring the message of the play back to their friends and neighbors,” said Charles Grady, project coordinator of Project Longevity Bridgeport. “The night was a home run on Broadway!”

The effectiveness of this community outreach shows that #tupaclives, a popular hashtag on Twitter for both the musical and in response to a recent CIA tweet claiming the spy organization doesn’t know the legendary rapper’s whereabouts. Producers and cast members assert that Tupac is center stage on Broadway nightly.

“Holler If Ya Hear Me” also stars Tony winner Tonya Pinkins, Christopher Jackson, Saycon Sengbloh, Ben Thompson, John Earl Jelks, Joshua Boone and Dyllon Burnside.

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