Opening on Broadway is the brand new musical, Holler If Ya Hear Me, featuring the music of Tupac Shakur. While the show draws inspiration from the late rapper’s lyrics and themes, it’s not actually related in anyway to Shakur’s own story. In fact, the show tells the stories of inner-city lives struggling to find peace. Even though the rapper’s life was rich enough for its own story, the show creators decided to tell a new story, similarly to a number of jukebox musicals before it.
The tradition of jukebox musicals — a show built around one artist’s catalog of music — goes back to the late-’80s when Leader of the Pack debuted on Broadway. The show, about the life of songwriter Ellie Greenwich, featured songs written by her, Phil Spector and Jeff Barry. Since then, a number of shows featuring the music of and about the lives of Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin, John Lennon, and most recently Carole King, have graced the Broadway stage.
In the past decade, Broadway has taken a new approach to using pop music in shows. Thanks to the success of We Will Rock You, which told the story of Bohemians struggling to restore individualism through Queen’s music, shows are now telling new and original stories. In the past few years alone, the music of Spice Girls (Viva Forever!), Frank Sinatra (Come Fly Away), Green Day (American Idiot) and The Proclaimers (Sunshine on Leith) have served as inspiration for the stage.
[Check out the gallery above for a history of shows following this tradition.]
While all have had varying success — Viva Forever! was ended almost as quickly as it opened — the main appeal is seeing and hearing fan favorites performed live on stage. How Holler If Ya Hear Me will do in comparison remains to be seen. But it certainly will pave the way for more hip-hop and R&B artists to serve as Broadway’s inspiration.