Before YouTube was a bonafide platform for discovering talent and birthing stars, Todrick Hall began producing original music videos and posting them to his channel. Now, YouTube is a certifiable launchpad for those trying to make it in the entertainment industry, and Hall is one of the platform’s biggest homegrown names. With 2.2 million subscribers to his channel (and counting), Hall recently released his first visual album, Straight Outta Oz. The 57-minute video marks a high point in his artistry and the origin for his current touring show of the same name, which hits New York City’s Highline Ballroom August 4 and the Gramercy Theatre August 5. But Hall’s dreams are beyond the rainbow.
“I want this show to do so much more than be a YouTube visual album,” says Hall. “I think this show has the potential to be on Broadway in some shape or form. That’s my goal, to hopefully be talking to you in a couple of years about the Broadway version of this show.”
It wouldn’t be Hall’s first time on the Great White Way. After his exit from Fox’s American Idol, Hall understudied the role of Harpo in the original production of The Color Purple and covered the role of Gator in Memphis.
Still, Hall has never felt more himself than when creating his own work.
The singer grew up in Arlington, TX, watching videos of Cats, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Jekyll & Hyde, starring David Hasselhoff, and falling in love with musical theatre. “I was in such a small town that I didn’t have friends that also had an appreciation for Broadway, so it was just me, and I would put on these huge, elaborate shows in my garage,” says Hall. “I grew up not having resources, and I couldn’t afford to hire a choreographer, so I learned how to choreograph my own shows and learned at a very young age how to put together pictures onstage and try to tell a story.”
Those skills have paid off as Hall creates music videos that spoof famous Broadway routines in videos like “Beauty and the Beat,” “Spell Block Tango” and “Twerking in the Rain.” “When I do my shows, I costume everything. I choreograph all of the show. I write all the music,” he says. “It’s a one-man-band type situation.”
YouTube not only provided an outlet for Hall’s creative impulses, it’s also been a way for him to introduce the world of theatre to a wider audience. “Now these kids are like, ‘What is this real song?’ and looking it up to find out what ‘Cell Block Tango’ is,” explains Hall. “If you’re a gay man and you haven’t seen ‘Cell Block Tango,’ you haven’t lived.”
Hall’s ideas often combine Broadway, Disney and pop culture, and a small concept transforms into a big production video in a matter of days. “If there was ever a time that we knew three days before we were filming a video that it was happening, that would be a miracle,” says Hall. “Before we even return the costumes [to the wardrobe house], sometimes the video is already out on YouTube.” This also means that Hall’s time to write may be just a few hours.
In fact, Hall wrote 26 songs for the Straight Outta Oz stage show (13 of which are in the visual album) in a span of four weeks. The narrative is a combination of The Wizard of Oz, Hall’s own life story and social commentary inspired by Beyonce’s Lemonade, Disney’s Zootopia and Hamilton. “After seeing those three things, I was like, ‘I want to tell a classic story with pop and hip hop music, and I want it to have social messages like Zootopia and Hamilton both have and [a style like] Lemonade,” he says. “I wanted to put together an album that told a story from beginning to end with music that could sometimes stand alone … but in this story, it makes sense that it helps further the plot of the story of The Wizard of Oz.”
From concept to timeline, Straight Outta Oz is Hall’s biggest undertaking yet—and so are his dreams for it. As he said, he wants to bring it to the Main Stem in some form. “I think it would be disrespectful to try to bring what I put on YouTube to Broadway, but I think the overall essence of it is something that could come there,” he says. Yet Hall knows that another Wizard of Oz story must add something to the conversation to be viable. “I don’t want to go to Broadway and do another Wizard of Oz show that doesn’t bring anything new to the community. I want it to be a show that changes people’s lives.”
Hall also believes his show takes a step towards reuniting Broadway and pop music. “I think that’s what Broadway was to begin with,” he says. “The music that people were listening to on the radio was the same music that they were singing on Broadway. Somewhere along the line, people got this concept that Broadway had to be old-school and always tap dancing to old school music that sounded like it was in the ’40s and ’50s. I don’t know where that happened, and my goal is to play a very small part or whatever part I can play in making that not a fact anymore.”
In the meantime, his tour of the current Straight Outta Oz wraps in Philadelphia August 12. Hall will continue to produce music videos, but he also says he “would love to come back to Broadway and do another show.” We’ll have to see what comes as Hall travels down his yellow brick road.
Watch the visual album: