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Producers Will Swing Big to Keep Tupac Musical Open on Broadway

Reviews were mixed and sales are downright dire. Which is why all of Broadway is wondering: When will “Holler If Ya Hear Me” throw in the towel?

Not yet, according to Eric L. Gold, the Hollywood veteran who is the lead producer of the Tupac Shakur musical. Fueled by a steadfast belief in the show’s creative merit, he hopes to raise $5 million to sustain the production until box office improves, he said in an interview with his co-producer Jessica Green.

The former manager of Ellen DeGeneres and Jim Carrey, Gold said he’s also thinking big about potential promotional gambits that would draw on his experience in boosting viewership for TV shows including “In Living Color” and “Ellen.”

Still, the tyro Broadway producer can’t predict how long the musical, initially capitalized at $8 million, will last. “It’s week to week right now,” he said. “It can’t tell you if it’ll be two weeks or two months. It’s an expensive game, and I’m the guy carrying the load financially. I made a rookie mistake by underestimating how much capital was necessary, but I’m tenacious.”

He’ll need to be.  Weekly sales for the musical, which began previews June 2, have not once cracked $200,000 — a drastically low number for any Broadway production, much less a musical with a cast of 22 and an orchestra of 9. Several of the show’s reviews in the legit world’s traditional media outlets criticized the musical for its original storyline about life in the ’hood, which critics found cliched or heavyhanded.

Gold said he and his producing team, which also includes Korean megaproducer Chunsoo Shin, have stuck the landing at Broadway’s Palace Theater not only because of their faith in the product, but because they acknowledge it will take time to pull in new audiences beyond habitual theatergoers and to help hip-hop break the mold of what traditionally works on Broadway.

Some observers have questioned why producers steered the musical to Broadway at all when a smaller house or a regional production in another city (such as Atlanta) might have increased the tuner’s chances. Gold and Green said the impetus for producers and creatives alike was to prove that hip-hop is as deserving of the Broadway imprimatur as other music genres more closely associated with musical theater.

In its Broadway berth the production has the benefit of supportive theater owners in the Nederlander Org, which hasn’t exercised its option to kick the show out of the theater due to low sales — at least not yet. The theater owners also allowed producers to reconfigure the auditorium (losing 600 seats in the process) for a more intimate feel.

Earlier this week the production’s cast performed numbers on “Good Morning America” (on Tuesday) and “Good Day New York” (on Wednesday) in an effort to kick up the tuner’s profile, and Henry Louis Gates Jr. penned a supportive think-piece arguing that the music of Shakur belongs on Broadway. In the coming weeks Gold hopes to get influential theatergoers (including New York City mayor Bill de Blasio) in the door to help tout the show.

He also intends to draw attention with headturning initiatives in the same vein as the ones in which he had a hand in Hollywood. When he was executive in charge of production at “In Living Color,” the FOX series helped push through a ratings plateau by airing an alternative halftime show during the CBS broadcast of the 1992 Super Bowl.

Similarly, he credits DeGeneres’ carefully strategized run on “American Idol” with helping her talkshow gain viewers.

That’s the kind of thinking that he hopes will help producers (working with marketing agency Cornerstone) come up with an effective push for “Holler.” No exact strategies have been implemented.

Part of Gold’s dedication to “Holler” stems from his longtime commitment to the project, stretching back to 2000, when he met with Afeni Shakur (also credited as one of the producers of “Holler”) about obtaining the rights to her late son’s music. Gold said he also feels the musical shoulders a responsibility toward future nontraditional productions hoping for a Broadway berth.

“If we don’t succeed, it’s going to be difficult to do another rap or hip hop show on Broadway,” he said.

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