The female lead of Holler If Ya Hear Me talks race and Broadway.
Atlanta-born with a Liberian background, Saycon Sengbloh is making a way for herself on the rough and tumble grind of Broadway. Rooted in faith and undeniable talent (Saycon's voice could knock out anyone on the Billboard Hot 100), Sengbloh has starred in the Broadway productions of FELA! and Motown: The Musical.
Her most recent role is playing the female lead in the Tupac-inspired musical Holler If Ya Hear Me, which is directed by Tony winner Kenny Leon. However, after only 38 previews and 17 regular performances, Holler If Ya Hear Me is abruptly closing this Sunday, shocking many people who thought the show had the potential for a long run on the Great White Way. Saycon, whose new single "Everything" is available on iTunes now, exclusively spoke to BET.com about the end of Holler If Ya Hear Me and much more.
How is the cast doing with Holler If Ya Hear Me closing on Sunday?
For the most part, I think the cast is in pretty good spirits. There are definitely some people who were little bit more sensitive than others. For some of the cast members, it's their Broadway debut. They made a lot of transitions in order to be a part of the show. Broadway is a full-time job. It's eight shows a week, rehearsals, appearances and press events, so essentially not unlike other jobs … people are being informed that they no longer have a job after the end of this week. There are people who are taking it hard and there are people who are like, “What's next?” I think all around everybody is very interested in what will be the future of this particular production.
How are you doing specifically?
I'm sort of in that realm where I'm curious about the future of the production. I am a spiritual person and I feel like there is a purpose that has been served or may even be served this week. I do believe in my heart somebody either has or will see the show who will do something that will amaze us all and will help change the world. You'll hear a story 30 years from now of somebody who said, “Yeah and I saw this little play on Broadway with Tupac’s music.” You can mark my words; I know that's going to happen. We still have the possibility of doing a broadcast of some type and also recording an album of some type, none of that is totally out of the window. Honestly, I’m in a place of thankfulness that I've had this opportunity. I've got a show a tonight at SOB’s. I booked several club dates. People are really interested in my music because I was a part of the show.
A question a lot of people are asking: Was Holler If Ya Hear Me too Black for Broadway?
[Laughs] I don't know ... I wouldn't say it was too Black for Broadway. After being a part of FELA!, the costumes, the political talk, polygamy and all of that .... I don't know if Holler was too Black for Broadway. Perhaps it was, but so what? People got to try things; I'm not a fan of playing it safe. I'm glad that Kenny Leon took this chance. Like I said, somebody's going to be changed because of it and I can't wait to see who that person is going to be.
The show got mixed reviews. Does that affect you as an actor?
I read some great reviews about the show and I've read some things that were more critical. Interestingly enough, nobody was particularly criticizing the actors, they were more criticizing the piece. So with this particular piece, I don't think the actors were necessarily upset about the critiques that came. Perhaps people will be ready for a Holler 10 years from now. I made a comment to one of my friends and said, “In 10 years there's going to be this revival of Holler If Ya Hear Me and it’s going to be a smash hit!” People are going to be like, “Oh, my God it's brilliant!” [Laughs] Perhaps they weren't ready for it this time.
Why do you think the show is closing?
I, personally, think a lot of it has to do with a mix-up in how the show was presented in the public eye. As a singer, as an actress, I loved seeing myself in the commercial but I think it would've been really great to focus more on Saul Williams or to not necessarily focus on it as a love story. Honestly, if you're going to sell a love story, you really need a serious love story. But if you're giving people hard-core hip-hop then I think you should sell to the niche of people who want hard-core hip hop. So you show them hard-core hip-hop. You present that side so that the people who want to see that come out in droves. I think people who enjoyed hard-core hip hop in that way may have assumed that the story was soften. For people who were coming in expecting a really soft, sweet story , they were like, “Whoa!” because it was really hard-core hip hop. I think there was something in how it was presented to the public.
People tend to think that it's easier for a Black actor on Broadway versus Hollywood would you agree?
I think there is a little bit of truth in that... I want to clear something up, from my understanding people always say the Great White Way … “Holler If Ya Hear Me is playing on the Great White Way.” There's a pun on words. I think a lot of people don't understand it was called the Great White Way because of the lights when it first started. We didn't have all this fiberglass and color back in the day so all the lights were white and it was the whitest, brightest street in town. It was not called the Great White Way because it was white people. Lena Horne, Sammy Davis, Jr.,Diahann Carroll—were all on Broadway in the 50s and 60s. Broadway was very welcoming of them, even when they couldn’t get work on certain television shows. As accommodating as Broadway has been to African-Americans, I wouldn't necessarily say that everything is all-equal, but I definitely think that it's been a very welcoming place to me and my African-American comrades.
Considering the grind of Broadway, shows opening and closing, do you ever just want to stop?
Yes, I do all the time! [Laughs] I would say like every couple of years I have a very clear feeling of wanting to move to Nebraska and pick corn. [Laughs] What little success I've had, I've really enjoyed it. Sometimes I feel like if I were to stop and do something totally unrelated to singing or acting, I think I’d enjoy having a more predictable lifestyle. It's really hard on your body, the aches, the pains—it can be quite tedious. But there are so many Black actors who don't necessarily find joy in doing other things. They really want to act. They really want an opportunity. I think like any career, not just acting, there are but so many shows and so many performances happening at a time. You got to just get in where you fit in and pray that you come out happy and safe on the other end of it.
What's next for you?
I just released a new single. A rock song that I wrote in the vein of Tina Turner meets Bruno Mars; it's called “Everything." I'm doing a show tonight at SOBs. I'm also performing August 13 and August 29 at 54 Below and I’m auditioning for some TV roles. Fingers are crossed!
(Photo: Joseph Marzullo/WENN.com)