“generations” At the SOHO Rep: South Africa comes downtown

The Soho Rep downtown is a place where for decades one can expect to witness many new plays, difficult works, challenging language and ideas of brutality and beauty, but never in all these years as anything like the glorious “generations” graced the entirety of the Walker Street space.

I knew nothing about this production when a wise journalist pal visiting from Jakarta tipped me to it; such is the miracle of modern global existence. From the moment the audience enters the theater, now filled with the evocative, bright orange sand of southern Africa to the tin walls painted the brightest colors available, one is in South Africa. The theater is set up with a random selection of chairs and stools all scattered willy-nilly around a cook stove and a kitchen table. The onions are simmering and the air is redolent with spices.

A troika of tall men in summer shirts was installed behind where we sat and made glib conversation with the audience as if they too were just there for the show. I think we all knew better. But nothing could prepare my soul and spirit for what happened when the first foot falls thudded to the ground and the conga blared and voices boomed in chants and clicks and undulations transforming the small space into a sacred shrine.

The miracle of a play, written by debbie tucker green (yes, all lower case, like the title) is in fact a circular tone poem. It is the same language repeated in different cadences, by different cast members, overlapping words and people on top of each other. “I was the cooker — you was the cookless — I was the cooker who coached the cookless.” It is in the same rhythm as Gertrude Steins, “A rose is a rose is a rose.” With many more iterations, prose and voices.

It is told at first by the entire three generation ensemble: grandparents who are so evocative and moving, Thuli Dumakude and Jonathan Peck; parents, Ntombikhona Diamini and Michael Rogers; and young soon-to-be lovers: the girlfriend so fierce and independent Shyko Amos, and the sweetie who woes her, the irrepressible Mamoudou Athie.

There is a junior sister, sweet and troublemaking Khail Toi Bryant and of course, the kick-ass choir featuring 13 members each better voiced and more winsome than the next. The choir makes the room vibrate and locks the piece together like musical super glue. The composition, arrangement and music direction is by Bongi Duma whose current credits, of course are musical director for “The Lion King.” But, here you get the same transportive music in what might be your back yard and it is so gob smacking.

The immersive set is by Arnulfo Maldonado and is brought to life by the genius of the duo behind Scenic Factory, George Hoffman and Greg Kozatek, who is really a sorcerer for sourcing props and set décor. Of course, none of this could make a 45-minute piece coalesce without director Leah Gardiner who understands how to move bodies and emotions and whose work is often seen at SOHO Rep.

“generations” runs through Nov. 9 at SOHO Rep Theater, 46 Walker Street, in New York. For information or tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit sohorep.org or playco.org

just shea: harvesting a new reality

*published on september 29, 2014 in ABC Home

by Julia Sweeney

Despite possessing a resume that includes experience as an editor, experimental theater producer, and Wall Street stockbroker, Wicki Boyle felt inspired to begin a new career in her late 50s — in Africa, no less. What would be seen as a daunting challenge for many is an exciting opportunity for Boyle, a woman who relishes in adventures in the unknown (her time spent writing for National Geographic is quite literally an example of this).

Boyle is the co-founder of Just Shea, a social business focused on empowering women shea collectors and harvesters in Northern Ghana through the sale of shea-based cosmetics. Just Shea products – lusciously soft salves for feet, hands, face, and lips created from Ghanaian shea butter – are now available both online and in-store in ABC Home. After discussing her life, career, and Just Shea recently, we part ways — but not before she proffers a genuine hug. An appropriate gesture, perhaps: Boyle’s ability to embrace the new with open arms is truly special.

Wickham-BoyleImage of Wicki Boyle, Ozier Muhammad / The New York Times

Boyle met Just Shea’s founder, Danielle Grace Warren, through The Op-Ed Project (a movement to increase the number of women thought leaders in key international commentary forums). They became friends – frankly, we can’t imagine not finding Boyle instantly companionable – and when Warren informed Boyle she was headed to Ghana, a deeper connection was forged.

Warren would eventually establish the One Village Planet-Women’s Development Initiative, a humanitarian organization focused on sustainable development projects for women in Haiti and Ghana (the profits of Just Shea are channeled to their shea-related activities in Ghana). Boyle, knowing very little about what Warren would actually end up doing, nevertheless felt compelled to get involved. She says, “I wrote her basically just saying, ‘I love Ghana. Can I help?’”

danielleDanielle Grace Warren, right

Eventually, Just Shea was born, a company that is capitalizing on a tremendously underutilized industry while enabling women entrepreneurs to establish true, viable businesses. In Africa, shea is known as “womenʼs gold”: Nut collection and processing are designated women’s work. More than 600,000 women collect shea nuts in Ghana, with the industry benefiting more than 2 million individuals (particularly because women tend to reinvest their profits back into their families and communities). Moreover, shea’s rising popularity – it’s seemingly laced in every single cream on the market today – makes it a sector for real growth. Yet over 25% of shea nuts harvested from Ghana’s trees are neither sold nor processed domestically; 60% of the available shea nuts go uncollected.

Just-Shea-1

This is largely due to the challenges the women shea nut collectors face, obstacles Warren witnessed firsthand. Boyle explains, “She was seeing that women collecting shea nuts – because it is a women’s job, men will not pick up anything off of the ground – are being bitten by poisonous snakes and scorpions. They don’t have any gear to protect their exposed hands, feet, or faces.” Moreover, as shea collecting often happens at night – so as to not interfere with their daytime responsibilities – they are forced to do so almost entirely in the dark, thus crippling efficiencies.

Based off of the concept of hands, feet, and faces (articulated in their products) Just Shea provides the simple tools these women need to be successful: Boots for the feet, gloves for their hands, and hats for their heads. Boyle remarks, “I like that our company very clearly tells you what we’re doing, but not in this longwinded way. You can literally see the connection.”

Just-Shea-2

Aside from this gathering gear, the profits for Just Shea help fund other critical logistical elements, such as solar-powered flashlights and silos to store the nuts, allowing collectors to aggregate the crop and sell it year-round (hitherto, many would abandon nuts that they were unable to store). Boyle and Warren have also launched an interest-free loan initiative, which enables women to take out money against a bag of collected shea nuts. This cash advance at the onset of the harvest season means they can hold onto their crop investments and sell during opportune market fluctuations.

While empowering women is rewarding for Boyle, creating a truly outstanding product is equally exciting. She comments, “We know that we have to make it twice as good as the next product, because people will not buy something just because it has a backstory — it has to be great.” Their shea butter formula, developed by a New York-based chemist, feels nothing like the heavy, often-sticky products we’ve encountered in the past. It glides on smooth and light, a refreshing — and new — articulation.

So, much like Boyle and the many women of entrepreneurs Just Shea, shea butter has taken on a new lease in life — one that feels very, very good. Shop Just Shea, below.

Just-Shea-_ just shea hand salve; $40 | just shea lip salve; $20 | just shea face salve; $55 | just shea foot salve; $40

 All images except top via Just Shea 

Scenes From a Marriage: a review

*published 30 Sept 2014 on The EDGE

The rotating cast of 'Scenes From a Marriage'

The rotating cast of ‘Scenes From a Marriage’  (Source:http://www.thewrap.com)

 

 

Ingmar Bergman made some deep, cutting and insightful movies. So whether you recall the movie,“Scenes From a Marriage” or not has no bearing on whether you are moved by this new, wild ride of a play conceived and directed by the marvelous Ivo Van Hove.

The movie portrayed one couple Johan and Marianne and we followed the vagaries and viciousness of their marriage. In the new imagining at The New York Theater Workshop on East Fourth Street there are three couples playing the original one. Yes it is complicated, but also infinitely intriguing, very much like relationships.

The small thrust theater has been divided into three distinct spaces, and the audience actually enters through a trio of doors depending on the color of your wristband. Once inside your theater, you begin to see the marriage of Johan and Marianne, either cast 1, 2 or 3. You may see them in any random order, I happened to see them 1, 2, 3 but a friend saw 3, I, 2.

This represents the couple at different stages of their lives and relationship. Happy and newly pregnant; a quarrelling and sexless marriage; and Johan leaving to marry a young student. My truncated telling condenses the facts into too tight a space because the fights, the unpeeling of the onion of the relationship are the crux of the play and of any long-term relationship. As an observer, the sadness and futility of the fights and clumsy attempts to rebuild love are heart breaking.

Although there are three different playing areas, they all share a central hub that serves as a cohesive backstage. This area has glass walls so from the get-go the audience observes the various couples exiting, gathering props or blowing off steam. All of this action is intended to be overheard in all three theaters, but to differing degrees. In fact, there is so much sound leakage that if most of the audience members didn’t inhabit New York City apartments, it might be very off putting.

However, the fretful conversation or sensuous groans so many native New Yorkers hear daily makes this layered sound juxtaposition an aural plus for those of us who delight in such confusion. Other audience members, overheard at the interval, were put off by hearing Leonard Cohen blaring twice from other rooms before actually experiencing it in the scene it was meant to illuminate.

The actors who played Johan and Marianne were as varied as the tumultuous roller coaster relationship they allow the audience voyeurs to watch. Alex Hurt and Susannah Flood were the first couple and the action and the interaction with another couple Peter, Erin Gann and Katrina played masterfully by Carmen Zilles, were by far the most compelling for this reviewer. The arch of their drama went from a perceived perfection of coupledom to ugly, angry fighting including an aborted pregnancy and the intendant despair of Marianne.

But in the next incarnation Johan 2, played by the excellent Dallas Roberts of late on “The Good Wife” and many other theatrical and televised works, and his Marianne (Roslyn Ruff) gave a great but sad portrayal of a marriage that had degraded further due to the constraints of children, work and the need to please everyone in their circle. Their intimacy had dwindled and died and so we are not surprised when the final troika of Johan and Marianne’s is preparing to divorce.

The third set of couples was the most problematic for me. Arliss Howard as the husband, throughout all the Sturm und Drang of packing and leaving, seemed never to embody the role. Rather he floated and stomped and never seemed present. His character was feckless and his wife seemed strong, yet enabling and it made for an uneasy partnering. It is difficult to parse whether one dislikes the actor or the act he is given, but in this case it might be both. In any event, the final couple parts and the curtain drops for intermission.

After a very welcome break, the entire work runs three hours plus, the audience returns and is reunited in the now open theater where the walls have all flown up and the seating is a zig-zag. They reunite on stage and proceed to repeat all their lines in a sort of cacophonic round. They then change partners quickly in reeling mode, each seamlessly moving to another husband or wife, sometimes in mid-sentence. This interaction illuminates both the similarity of every marital fight and the sameness and sharpness in our quotidian conversations. These wonderfully choreographed fights mark the high point of the play.

Finally, the couples drift off stage, clothing optional, with shoes, jeans and shirts dripping off the characters. The audience sits silently in the theater as the noisy copulating takes place in the wings. Everyone returns, redresses piece by piece and signs the divorce papers. Drama finished, correct?

Nope, it was time for a conversation with Marianne 3, Tina Benko and her mother Mia Katigbak, who had done well playing a client seeking a divorce in round two. Yes, these mother-daughter rapprochements are important, but I was exhausted from the therapeutic fighting, clanging symbols of unions gone wrong and sometimes, a play needs to end. After the mother daughter scene, with only one daughter doing the scene this time, Tina Benko and Arliss Howard reunite for yet another tryst.

Often when there is so much to take in, so many emotional highs and lows and a unique staging and casting concept, the producing team might opt for some simplification, the ‘less is more’ theory of stagecraft. The immersion and the privilege of watching wonderful acting, a great translation, by amazing Emily Mann, wonderful staging and ideas that are timeless were enough. “Scenes From A Marriage” is still an undertaking that will be seared into everyone who invests the time and emotion into watching it.

“Scenes From a Marriage” runs through Oct. 19 at New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East Fourth Street, New York. For tickets or information, call 212-780-9037 or visit www.nytw.org

Red Eye of Love: a review

*published 5 Sept 2014 on The EDGE

Alli Mauzey, Josh Grisetti

Alli Mauzey, Josh Grisetti  (Source:Carol Rosegg)

 

To say that “Red Eye of Love” had a long voyage to its present incarnation is a proverbial understatement. The current musical began life in 1961 at the iconic Living Theater, as a wild romp of a play by experimentalist Arnold Weinstein. It was originally directed by John Wulp, who won a directing Obie back in the day, and became the work’s unflagging champion. It is because of Wulp’s devotion and stellar reputation in the theater world that nearly five decades after a first bow “Red Eye of Love” is back, and with a modern vigor.

This is a romantic musical with a stunning cast, a beautifully realized presentation and a message for our times. But it is wacky, non-linear, confusing, poetic and sometimes flabbergasting. The premise that rings as true now, (sadly) as it did in the ’60s, is that artists and the 99 percent are constantly making choices between having a safe, happy life and “selling out,” as folks used to say.

The ingénue Selma Chargess, played with adorable aplomb by Alli Mauzey (who can warble and hoof with equal measure and win the hearts of all around her), is engaged to Meat Magnate O. O. Martinas. He is an older man who has made his fortune building a mega store for meat. Weinstein was prescient in ascribing the ability to amass millions in a niche market. One could not have conceived in the era of the Vietnam War that cold pressed juice, boutique water or thousand dollar jeans would become huge franchises.

But O.O. as he is called makes the big bucks selling venison, chops, brisket and beyond — in fact, Brisket and Beyond might have been the stores’ name if it had been written today. Kevin Pariseau of “Legally Blonde” fame gives life to O.O. as a smarmy, mustachioed villain, with a deeply hidden heart of gold. The entire work harkens back to musicals and films of the ’40s where damsels are in distress and need rescuing.

Selma is a sad wife to O.O., avoiding his bed and working in the meat mart, but longing for something more when she encounters hardship Wilmer Flange. Wilmer, played by Josh Grisetti, has a hangdog exterior and a tenor voice to beat the band. He has little ambition other than to find “the key” whatever that may be.

The key to the success of this show is the terrific cast. The ensemble is diverse and remarkable and features Katie Chung, Daniel Lynn Evans, Katie Hagen and Sam Tanabe. Of special mention are Tracie Franklin who gets a star turn as a singer in a ’40s boite with a smoky song and a silky voice, and Daniel May embodying a very funny Japanese-German hybrid soldier who can dance and prance with the best of them.

The music has recently received a complete overhaul, the original score by Jan Warner having been dubbed “too complicated and more like an opera score.” So a young composer, Sam Davis, was brought in to create an upbeat ’40s-type score played masterfully on two ever-present dueling pianos front and center.

The musicians are Roberto Sinha and Greg Jarrett, who is also the musical director. At times I think the casts’ excellent music chops might have been well challenged by more complicated musical memes, because when harmonies and dissonance did enter, I found myself perking up and saying, ‘Ahh yes, this is something.’

Ted Sperling, who most recently won a Tony for orchestrating “The Light in the Piazza,” directs the Amas Musical Theater’s evening. The show moves at a great clip as we evolve past the love affair and into the Depression, World War II and economic recovery, but credit is also due to choreographers Lainie Sakakura and Alex Sanchez for high kicks and more.

The design features a backdrop by acclaimed painter Robert Indiana, enhanced admirably with projections by David Wilson. Even the lights and costumes by Matthew Richards and Martha Bromelmeier respectively need to get applause as they really create a fully realized historic sense.

The second act is where this work really begins to dig deep and cross over to addressing some of the thorny economic issue that have not ceased to plague us. Among them is how our economy uses the economically unempowered to fight wars, while not recognizing their contributions upon return. The creatives who long to discover, in this case, a special toy, to make our contribution to society, only to see that those who are valued most make mega markets of meat or cashmere or juice.

In the end all three star-crossed lovers are united in a troika that may or may not move forward to the land of happily ever after. But it does reinforce the concept that if every member of the one percent “adopted” two from the ninety-nine percent we might all have our lives enhanced.

“Red Eye of Love” runs through September 28 at Dicapo Opera Theatre, 184 East 76th Street. For information or tickets, call 212-868-4444 or visit www.smarttix.com/redeye

My Life Is a Musical: a review

*published on 22 Aug 2014 on The Edge

Kathleen ELizabeth Monteleone, Justin Matthew Sargent, Howie Michael Smith

Kathleen ELizabeth Monteleone, Justin Matthew Sargent, Howie Michael Smith  (Source:Lenny Stucker)

 

It is not often that one travels to the theatrical hinterlands to encounter pitch-perfect musical comedy, but at Sag Harbor’s Bay Street theater song, laughter and sophisticated humor are in the salty air.“My Life is a Musical” with book, lyrics and music penned by fresh-faced Adam Overett, threatens to be a hit well beyond a summer love affair.

This show’s premise is that a young accountant named Parker, played with dorky aplomb and great singing chops by Howie Michael Smith, has a secret. He hears every thing as if he were in a musical. Overett took as the nugget for creating this new work the idea that many folks really hate the way in a musical everyone will just burst into song willy-nilly to describe any and every situation. Overett said, “I thought what would it be like if this was the reality for one person, this was their reality, but no one else could hear it.” And thus “My Life is a Musical” was hatched.

The Bay Street Theater is the perfect crucible for launching new work and in their current season they have premiered two. The space is an intimate semi-proscenium theater where ushers even offer blankets to the audience in what might be a hyper air-conditioned environment for some. This show unfolds the inner world of Parker as he shares his dreaded secret that every encounter he has, from an innovative bus commute to passersby, all share their lives in song.

This tortures Parker so he chooses to live as solitary a life as he can to avoid the dreaded soundtrack. He is thrust into a musical reality when his boss assigns him to be the accountant for a rock band on tour. Hijinx and musical marvelousness ensue.

The small cast, each brimming with talent, charisma and diversity, light up the stage as they embody a panoply of characters from Hasidim to admiral, roadie to cop to secret spy. The characters are all really caricatures, which only adds to the fun. The character of Zac, the erstwhile rock star, is played with enormous ego and a belting voice by Justin Matthew Sargent and the manager, JT, who loves music and the band, but can’t carry a tune in a bucket, is the winsome, talented Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone. (As an aside, when did every actor begin using three names? )

The band, called Zeitgeist, goes on tour with the accountant in tow and Parker is transformed when the rock star cannot compose a song. Well, since Parker hears music everywhere, songs spew forth. And in this case they are backed up by the best little four piece band on the East End of Long Island, led by conductor Vadim Feichtner.

Feichtner is also the show’s musical director and has worked recently and often with the marvelous William Finn, whose music is often echoed in this piece. This is a real complement coming from a Finn fanatic.

As well as being musically satisfying and hummable, this evening is so funny that the yucks and sustained guffaws resonated throughout the theater. There is a gem of a character called Randy who is a music blogger, but his secret life is that he sees everything through a glass darkly.

His life is a spy novel. He is constantly garbed in a fedora and trench coat, even over his pajamas, as he endeavors to dig up dirt on who is the real author behind Zeitgeist’s rocking song fame. Of course he does, and Parker is elevated to song meister, he gets the girl, and it no longer seems so horrible that his life is really a musical endeavor.

The show is supported by a small cast that plays many quick-change roles, all delineated with panache in the costuming genius of Amy Clark. Beards are tossed aside for conductor’s caps and the revolving door of a world filled with silly often comes with the perfect outfit. The set, designed by David Arsenault, is very simple but literally sets the stage for whimsy and farce, and is perfectly utilized by director and choreographer Marlo Hunter.

The show runs until August 31, but honestly if you don’t see this mounted soon in a theater on the smaller island of Manhattan, I’ll eat my hat — or my false beard.

“My Life is a Musical” runs through August 31 at The Bay Street Theater, 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor, NY 11963. For tickets or information, call 631-725-9500 or visitwww.baystreet.org/Performances/18/MY-LIFE-IS-A-MUSICAL.html

Fuerza Bruta “Wayra”

*published on 31 July 2014 on The EDGE

The cast of 'Wayra'

The cast of ‘Wayra’  (Source:Jacob Cohl)

 

Cell phones are popping selfies and snagging videos from the moment the very young, hip, multi-lingual crowd bounces into the lobby bar at the Daryl Roth Theatre on East 15 Street. This gang is ready to paaaartey and the show hasn’t even begun.

The final installment of the De La Guarda trilogy, which began back in 2007 with the show “Fuerza Bruta,” is an Argentine-founded, multi-sensory spectacular created by Artistic Director Diqui James and Musical Director Gaby Kerpel. And the beat continues undiluted with “Wayra.”

This is a spectacle for our digital age. There are no regulations against the constant parade of photos, except no flash, and phones held in the air emit a ghostly light, which covers the audience as they huddle or move en masse, like a huge proteus across the theater. There is no real premise other than loud, sometimes excruciatingly blaring fun.

The show is comprised of an equal number of musicians, actors, dancers and a T-shirt clad crew of extremely young men and women who usher the audience, raise curtains, move furniture and I am sure create a completely safe environment for all involved. And that seems at times a daunting task.

The show never stops throbbing and the audience is on their feet for the entire 90 minutes. Everyone claps, sways, screams and moves to either avoid the cascading water, the huge fans blowing confetti or to touch the enormous plexi- glass ceiling that descends upon all creating a thin tissue between audience and the scantily clad, well waxed dancers who writhe in the sloshing waters above our heads.

The entire time a beat that could rival any ’80s disco causes the room to pulse and the audience to assume the role of willing drum major. All that was missing was the pervasive aroma of poppers to bring the dance floor alive, redolent of another age.

But this is the 21st Century and there was pulsing not dancing, and constant archiving for future personal use. The music is played on huge kettle drums and South American flutes as well as guitars and electronic synthesizers and it augments the sense of endless wonder that is attempted by rolling floors, aerial contortions and undulating walls of Mylar that shoot dancers in arcs above our heads.

But alas there is no plot or glue that moves the evening along. Perhaps that is an old-fashioned constraint and desire, but spectacle for its own sake grows tired even if it is only for an hour and a half. Albeit standing and craning upward or ducking to avoid torrents of water, which can also be a tad taxing, thus render play clothes and comfy shoes a must.

At the end, the crowd is in a frenzy and the performers and techies throng the stages clapping to elicit a musical encore. The bar is thrown open and drinks are two-for-one and the party continues, spilling out into the summer night. Why not?

“Fuerza Bruta: Wayra” enjoys an extended run at the Daryl Roth Theatre, 101 East 15th Street in NYC. For information or tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit www.fuerzabrutanyc.com

Holler if Ya Hear Me: review

*published in The EDGE on 19 June 2014

Saul Williams, Dyllon Burnside (background) and Joshua Boone

Saul Williams, Dyllon Burnside (background) and Joshua Boone  (Source:Joan Marcus)

 

“Holler If Ya Hear Me,” is the new musical inspired by the lyrics of the late rapper Tupac Shakur and directed by powerhouse Kenny Leon, fresh off his win at the Tony Awards. It is not a literal telling of Tupac’s life, but rather, “a non-biographical story about friendship, family, revenge, change and hope.”

This is a huge undertaking because although Tupac Shakur’s life was cut off at 25, he was an incredibly prolific writer, rapper and poet and there was an ocean of material from which to choose. The fact that it takes a stage full — nearly thirty incredibly talented actors, singers, and dancers — to portray the inner workings of one very complex man named Tupac is a testament to the depth and staying power of his work.

It also creates challenges in making this piece come to life in a comprehensible way. In numbers like “I Get Around” versus “Keep your Head Up” you have the men sing one song and the women sing the other embodying their struggles, but the glory of Tupac’s writing is that it was the same person writing both these misogynist words and the paean to women and motherhood, just at different moments.

The book is penned by Todd Kreidler, a frequent dramaturg for August Wilson, and it is most definitely not the life of Tupac Shakur, but it might be his times. And sadly, twenty years later the situation in inner cities among people of color is not significantly changed. If anything, time has eroded some of the protections and programs available to youth in the “ghetto.”

This work is not easy to leap into. You are thrown into the lives of panoply of characters and might struggle to figure out the arc of the plot. The better route is to give yourself over to the passion, glorious talent and rich text. By the second act you will certainly have become happily immersed.

The work opens with acclaimed poet Saul Williams as a character called John; he is high above the stage tethered to a cell in an orange prison jumpsuit. Williams is normally a solo performer who holds an audience with his silver tongue and adroit delivery, but on occasion in “Holler” it feels as if the words he is rapping are pushing him too fast and they get lost. But his presence is mighty.

He is up against the singing chops of none other than Tonya Pinkins, three-time Tony nominee, possessing a voice that snaps heads in her direction and keeps them focused there until her last note.

Then there is the only “white-boy” in the hood, played by the incredible Ben Thompson whose last Broadway role was the headmistress in “Matilda;” he brings humor, pathos, a great voice and fleet dancing feet. Christopher Jackson as Vertus is a big man with a bigger voice and charm to win the ladies and fight the gangs.

His other compatriots are the equally talented Joshua Boone as Darius and Dyllon Burnside as Anthony. Saycon Sengbloh plays John’s former girl and Darius’ current love and she has a duet with Saul Williams, ” Unconditional Love,” that is heartbreakingly beautiful.

The set by Edward Pierce is a flexible cityscape enhanced by Zachary Borovay’s projections and well-lit by Mike Baldassari. The choreography by Wayne Cilento of “Wicked” moves the cast, all of whom dance, sing, leap and bring the amazing words of Tupac Shakur to audiences who have waited too long to see Tupac’s work elevated to a Broadway level.

Although this piece is flawed by some disconnect in the first act, by the time the curtain comes down the crowd is raucous, grateful and energized.

“Holler if Ya Hear Me” enjoys an extended run at The Palace Theater, 1546 Broadway in New York. For information or tickets, call 212-730-8200 or visit http://hollerifyahearme.com/