The Howard Theater was transformed on Monday. Viral YouTube, MTV and “American Idol” star Todrick Hall took fans out of the sold-out D.C. theater and into Oz Angeles, performing a musical theater version of his visual album, “Straight Outta Oz.”
The 20-song, “Wizard of Oz”-inspired visual album features big names like Nicole Scherzinger, Perez Hilton, Jordin Sparks, Wayne Brady and Joseph Gordon Levitt, but Hall remains the brightest star in his show onscreen and onstage.
In “Straight Outta Oz,” Hall takes viewers through the story of his life growing up in rural Texas, finding his first love as a gay man, having his heart broken and moving to Oz Angeles to blow money and chase fame. The show even hints at Hall’s 2013 gig writing a song for Virgin America by having his character write a jingle for “Flying Monkey Airlines,” although there are no allusions to his time on “American Idol” or his MTV show. The tour still has dates remaining throughout Canada and the U.S. through Aug. 12.
While the show sticks pretty strictly to the visual album, there are a few bonus songs to surprise audiences. For those who have watched the video, this can make the show a bit predictable, but Hall’s fans at the Howard couldn’t have cared less, dancing and singing along to every lyric.
The theater was filled with giddy, smiling groups of teenagers and middle-aged women, straight and gay couples, even many small children who seemed to adore Hall just as much as everyone else. As his viral Youtube music medleys played during intermission, the audience turned the break into a dance party. A rogue voguer even had to be escorted off stage.
Hall takes hip-hop and does it better than half the rappers on the charts with songs like “Expensive” and “Dumb.” Not only that, but he does it in drag, looking hotter and rapping harder than Nicki Minaj and all of her alter egos (he also does a killer Disney princess impression of her in his “Mickey Minaj” video). The theater erupted as he rapped around the audience and dropped it low as a boss-ass witch for “Wrong Bitch,” a song celebrating black pride against police brutality. In the visual album, Bob the Drag Queen raps along with Hall in the “Wicked”-esque song, fighting against the police “dropping houses” on their “beautiful green brothers and sisters.”
While the show is largely centered around Todrick and his story, Hall shares the stage with a killer cast and diverts the plot to send a few important messages to the audience.
Amber Riley (“Glee”) sings as Todrick’s mother in the visual album, but Teresa Stanley (Broadway’s “Rock of Ages,” “The Color Purple”) brings the character to life on stage for a much more believable performance. In “Lions and Tigers and Bears” and “See Your Face” she belts out emotional lyrics about a mother’s undying love for her son. Of course, a mother can only be so patient, and in a funny, sassy song not on the album she warns Todrick that she’ll “whoop his ass” if he doesn’t call her back.
Other standout performances include Chester Lockhart, who plays Todrick’s posh, social media-obsessed friend as well as an outstanding member of the ensemble, and Vonzell Solomon, whose vocal range is a highlight in many roles throughout the whole show.
Hall breaks away from his Oz-obiography to make a point about gun violence and pay tribute to Trayvon Martin, Christina Grimmie and the Pulse Nightclub victims in the soulful song “Water Guns,” which received a standing ovation at the Howard. In “Dumb” he raps about equal rights and takes shots at shallow celebrities with lyrics like, “If I have blue button eyes and blonde hay/Would I make the magazine on the best page?/Be the leading man, if I was less gay?/If I was a woman would you try to give me less pay?”
In a show that could so easily stick to being all about him, Hall takes the high road and uses his platform to speak out for causes he believes in — a rare move reminiscent of Beyonce’s “Formation.”
Hall pushes the boundaries of what a pop artist can do, say and dress like in today’s world. He makes kid-friendly videos parodying Disney princesses and pop icons that make me look back at a childhood raised on “Kidz Bop” in regret. He raps better than Nicki, Drake and Lil’ Wayne combined, and isn’t afraid to spit fire with substance to fight for a less whitewashed, heteronormative and violent society. His pop and musical songs are infectiously catchy. “Papi,” “Little People,” and “If I Had a Heart” could be instant broadway classics.
Despite already having been tied to big names such as “American Idol,” “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and MTV, YouTube has made Hall more famous than any TV show ever could. His channel has more than two million subscribers and his most popular video, “Disney Dudes” from 2013 has 17 million views. “Straight Outta Oz” has almost two million views after just one month.
Like many other YouTube sensations, Hall capitalizes on this by taking his act off screen and on stage. He recently told Playbill that his goal is to take “Straight Outta Oz” to Broadway within a couple years. With the profound talent Hall has along with such a dedicated fanbase, that seems like a definite possibility.