On Thursday evening, the new Broadway show “Holler If Ya Hear Me,” which features Tupac’s music celebrated its opening night. 

Amber Tamblyn, Vince Vaughn, Sam Rockwell, Dancer Sergio Trujillo, Constantine Maroulis, Condola Rashad, Valisia Lekae, Mopreme Shakur, Sherri Shepherd all walked the pre-show red carpet at the Palace Theatre on June 19. The opening night after party followed at Gotham Hall where we caught up with some of the cast and creatives.

Kenny Leon2014 Tony Winner Kenny Leon directed the show. 

What was the creative process like making the play?

KL: The creative process was exciting, challenging, wonderful, difficult.

What was the most difficult part?

KL: The most difficult is rehearsing in a studio and not having the entire mechanisms that you need. So then you need to make the transitions appear and then you have the revolve that goes around and then a lift that goes up and then a band that’s not close to you, they’re like under the stage. So rehearsing in the studio, the band is right there and you have tape on the floor, so using that imagination in your head until you can really explain it to the actors once you get into the space, that’s about all. I had 24 great actors.

How was the cast?

KL: It was great. They were all experts in different areas, you have great actors who now dance, you have great dancers who are acting, you have singers who are doing spoken word, so I liked the variety of the talent and it was very exciting for me.

What was the most important part of play for you to put emphasis on?

KL: I tried to give everything equal attention. It was important, though, to clarify the beginning so that the audience could really be engaged in the story. Once they know who everyone is, then they can love them or hate them or whatever so I guess the most important thing was to give my block right.

What initially got you interested in creating this project?

KL: I think about ten years ago, I talked to Ms. Shakur about bringing Tupac on stage and when I got into his music, I could see that his music by its very nature is theatrical. It has character in it, it has tone in it, he has art in every song. There’s passion in every song, in “Dear Mama”, there’s passion about a guy who loves his mother. So you take that and you put it in another context and you can have even greater emotions. “Thug Passion” is about someone saying, “is there a heaven for people like us?” Those are universal themes that you can explore on a broadway stage in a much wider range than you can, say, in a musical concert.

How do you think this play is going to influence people?

KL: I think it’s going to encourage some 20 year old sitting out there writing that think they have no place to think “well you know this might be a broadway play, there might be a story here”, so I think the success of this would allow other young people to dream bigger.

And what words do have for those dreamers out there?

KL: Keep on dreaming. There are plenty of haters in the world, you know, you gotta ignore the haters and keep on dreaming.

Todd KreidlerTodd Kreidler wrote the script. 

So what initially got you interested in working in this play?

TK: A combination of things. My colleague Kenny Leon said, “Hey! I’ve been contacted to do Tupac on Broadway and I think you should be the guy to write it”, and I said really? He said,“ I think you could put big arms around this and maintain the integrity of the material while also honoring what Tupac was writing about. So that’s where I began. I’ve lived in the lyrics and I tried to bring it to stage through narrative.

What’s the most exciting part about this whole project?

TK: Oh, every piece of it. The first time I heard it read, the first time I heard it sung, the first time I saw a bit of the stage, and the first time I saw the design of it. So it’s like a tumbling of great events, each moment leading up to tonight.

Saycon SengblohSaycon Sengbloh plays Corinne.

Can you speak a little about your part in the play and what it means to you to be a part of it?

SS: Well the role of Corinne, first of all, when you hear Tupac in the beginning, one of his songs, he says, “this is dedicated to a little girl named Corinne”. The fact that our scriptwriter decided to name my character Corinne is very meaningful for me. Corinne is the love interest in the show and she’s a person who likes to take care of people. She works at the grocery store and she’s kind of caught up between the two loves and has to make a decision about it.

What does Tupac mean to you being from Atlanta?

SS: Growing up in Atlanta, we all were listening to Tupac. I was in high school when Tupac was still living and in college when he died. And we were all listening to his music, we were bumping all way in the car to school and Tupac means everything. His music – it was party music, it was fun music, I loved it. I really really loved it and I’m just so happy to be part of the show.

Dyllon BurnsideDyllon Burnside plays Anthony.

What was your favorite scene in the play?

DB: I think my favorite scene is the scene from “If I Die Tonight” going into “Only God Can Judge Me”. The scene where John is deciding that we’re not going to fight. I think that scene is such a beautiful scene. And every night the intensity’s here you know, we pump ourselves up to go to battle and then the energy before you know it is like, “No. We’re not doing it.” And so, my character of course, goes for the journey after that to like, “I’ve got to pump myself again because I’m on this journey of trying to make it right, trying to make Benny’s death right and try to prove that I’m a man.”

Are there any similarities between you and your character?

DB: Anthony’s a writer and I’m also a writer, I write a lot of poetry. I like to write musings on my own thoughts and I journal a lot and that’s also a big part of who Anthony is. And he’s also a reader and a seeker of knowledge so that part of Anthony is also a big part of Dyllon as well.

Has Tupac influenced your writing in any way?

DB: Oh, Definitely. Tupac’s lyrics and poetry are filled with so much passion and hope, and that passion reads as you’re coming across the page and comes across as you’re listening to his music. That rawness, that edge, and that passion is something that I aspire in my writing for sure.

 How was working with the cast?

DB: This cast is my family man. I’ve been on this project since last summer, in the last workshop of the show and this company, most of us have been here for probably some time, some before I was here and we’re just a family. We get each other and we’re very passionate about the work that were doing and the goals we have in reaching America with this piece. We’re on the same page and I love them all.

What words do you have for the aspiring dreamers out there?

DB: Never let go of your dream and never let go of yourself. I think that that’s also something my character struggles with. He loses himself in the process of trying to avenge his friend’s death and I would just say to young people out there to not lose yourself, stay true to who you are as you’re striving to see your world change. It will change with you being the change. 

Tonya PinkinsTonya Pinkins plays Mrs. Weston.

What was your favorite scene? 

TP: Well my favorite scene is actually one that I am not in, “Hail Mary”. I loved that number, I loved the beat, I loved the popping that the dancers were doing, the combination of three stories going on simultaneously, to young man trying to gather his courage to another man find his manhood and the other dancers getting ready, that’s my favorite number.

Would that be your favorite song? 

TP: Well, my favorite song is actually a new one that no one’s ever heard, which is “Please Wake Me When I’m Free” along with “The Rose That Grew from Concrete” which were based on poems of Tupac’s that Daryl Waters sent to me.

What was your favorite scene that you were in?

That would be the scene that I do with my son, Chris, where I get to sing “Resist the Temptation”.

How was it doing the scene?

TP: It was very hard doing the scene because it was a rap. I don’t consider myself as having much rhythm, although black people generally, do but I don’t have any. So learning the rhythm of it, and then trying to set melody to it because I think of myself as an actress first and I normally like to act things. Usually they are arranged around me and delve myself into Tupac’s rhythm. So that has been an ongoing challenge for me, maintaining rhythm.