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Classicalite Q&A with Daryl Waters, Music Supervisor and Arranger for 'Holler If Ya Hear Me' on Broadway

by Jon Sobel   Jun 25, 2014 14:52 PM EDT

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The new musical Holler If Ya Hear Me, based on the lyrics of the late rapper Tupac Shakur, opened last week as the first Broadway musical ever to be based entirely on rap music.

While Saul Williams, Christopher Jackson, Saycon Sengbloh, Tonya Pinkins and the rest of the cast are giving their all on stage every night under Kenny Leon's direction, what interested me most was how Tupac's songs had been adapted for the theater.

Daryl Waters supervised, arranged and orchestrated the music for Holler. He has performed similar work for After Midnight, Memphis, The Color Purple, Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk and Jelly's Last Jam among others. He took some time to speak to us about his career and the genesis and process of Broadway's first rap musical.

Classicalite: Just before Holler you worked on After Midnight, and both shows are on Broadway as we speak. Between the music of Duke Ellington and Tupac, that's got to require a lot of versatility on the part of a Music Supervisor or an Arranger. Can you talk a little about the contrast between what was involved for you in working on those two very different shows?

Daryl Waters: On After Midnight I was working with Wynton Marsalis and his group of world-class musicians, as well as Warren Carlyle, the director, who with Jack Viertel shaped a really great story about the Cotton Club. I did a lot of listening to Wynton because that's his world, and I filtered that to come up with the arrangements that we needed to make it more theatrical.

With Holler I had a little more leeway because people were counting on my expertise a little more to help shape the piece. It was a little scarier because I'm dealing with a world I had not lived in as much as the jazz world.

CL: What was the process, or what were the challenges, in adapting Tupac's raps for a 10-piece orchestra while still keeping the original feel of the songs?

DW: It was finding a way to make sure the story was being supported theatrically, because there are times when lyrics or action can stand a little bit of comment from the music as opposed to just grooving through it. That's not to say Tupac's music really needs much help with that, because it's the lyrics that we're actually in tune with, but at times I could help with adding an accent or some melodic phrases to bring out a little bit more of the emotion of the piece.

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