By John Russell
YouTube superstar Todrick Hall is strapping on his ruby kicks and hitting the road once again. With a Broadway run in Kinky Boots under his belt, a new single with drag mother RuPaul on iTunes, the deluxe edition of his 2016 visual album on YouTube, and a documentary that just premiered at South by Southwest, the 31-year-old sensation is re-launching his Straight Outta Oz tour. Known for his fairy tale parody videos and for his obsession with The Wizard of Oz, Hall’s stage show is a mix of pop concert and Broadway spectacle, blending his own life story with the L. Frank Baum’s great American fantasy. The 30-plus-city romp kicks off in New York, March 30 and will crisscross the U.S., Europe and Australia. Hall snatched a few minutes of precious rehearsal time to chat with Queerty about the changes he’s making to the show, Ru’s influence in his life, and why he’s hesitant to leave The Wizard of Oz behind.
What are you doing to prep for the tour?
My life is so crazy that we don’t really get to do much prep! But we are just rehearsing like crazy for the show. I just think I’m one of those people that—I thrive off of last minute things. You know, under pressure. So I love to just be working, working, working, up til the very last minute so that I can’t over-analyze things or freak out. I love that our show opens Thursday and we started rehearsal two days ago! We fly to New York on Tuesday and we don’t know what some of the numbers are gonna be. So I don’t have a moment to freak out. Every second of the day is occupied to help make this show the best it can be. Whatever we present on Thursday night is just what we present, you know?
Well, you performed this show last summer. Are there any major changes on this tour?
Unlike most artists, I choreograph my own numbers and my own shows, I cast them and I teach [the dancers]. Because we have so many new cast members—almost all of them are new. There are only four returning dancers out of 12. We’re having to re-teach everything from start to finish. But it’s really cool because now I can change things that didn’t really work last year, or that I didn’t really like. We got probably 60 new costumes, and a lot of new set pieces, and we’ve added an opening and a closing number, as well as a few new number in between. There’s about five new numbers in the show, and that’s been the most difficult. But it has definitely helped that we have people that are returning from last year that can teach the numbers that are staying the same. And maybe that’s why I’m less stressed than I was last year! [Laughs] But I think for people who came last year, it’s gonna be a really cool thing for them to watch it again. It’s a lot different this year. And unlike last year, they’re gonna know the “Flying Monkey Airlines” song and the “New Mom” song. And “Low.” That was a song I’d done years ago, but last year we put it in the show because it was Wizard of Oz themed and people didn’t really know it. So now with Mother RuPaul on the track it’s gonna be for sure a highlight of the show. We just learned it and the choreography is like awesome. The dancers are so talented.
You’ve made a few appearances on Ru’s shows. Any chance of Ru showing up in yours to perform “Low” with you?
I don’t know if he would do the number because it’s a lot of lyrics for Miss Ru to be learning! But I think that he might come by to see the show, for sure. He flew to New York to see my opening night of Kinky Boots, and all of the cast members were gagged! So I think he’ll probably make it to one of the shows.
It seems like Ru has become kind of a mentor to you. Or do you think of him more as a colleague, an equal?
He’s definitely an idol of mine and he is definitely a mentor. He’s helped me through so many crazy chapters of my life. When I need strong advice I call him and he’s always there for me. I compare it to what Brandi must have felt like when she found out she was performing with Whitney Houston in Cinderella. It reminds me of that type of dynamic. He’s my fairy drag mother, for sure. He’s somebody that I know that I can depend on, somebody that I’ve learned so much from—not only how he is in front of the camera, but how he treats his crew and his team off-camera. He’s had the same people working with him for, like, 30 years, and if that doesn’t speak to how great of a human being someone is, I don’t know what does. I hope to be in those shoes 30 years from now.
You mentioned recasting a lot of the dancers in this version of Straight Outta Oz. Why did you end up recasting so many people?
To be completely honest with you, some people got new jobs. People booked national tours, some of them are on Broadway, they’re on tour with The Bodyguard and with Motown: The Musical. But also, I am a person that has spent so much time this year fighting and preaching that everybody should be represented, and I felt like we had a lot of the same race of people [in the show] and I wanted it to be a more rainbow cast and to make sure that there were people from lots of different walks of life and ethnic backgrounds on the tour. We didn’t have any Asian Americans, no Hispanic people at all. It was just black and white, and I felt like it was really important to mix it up and have other races in the show.
You just released a deluxe version of your visual album, also titled Straight Outta Oz. Can you tell me a little bit about translating those videos for the stage?
Well, it was kind of the opposite, because I wrote a lot of things to be in the show that weren’t in the visual album before. But because my show is a concert and it’s really loud, this year I was like, I really want people to be able to listen to the lyrics and understand the importance of each number. And because “Black and White” wasn’t in there, “Whoop That Ass” wasn’t in there, and there’s a lot of words—I write songs that have a lot of words, really fast. So, you know when you go to a concert, the acoustics and just the energy, it’s so crazy that you can’t really hear every word. So I really wanted to re-release [the visual album] so my fans know all the lyrics to the songs that weren’t on the album. Plus, I think if you’re good at doing social media you listen to what your fans say to you, and a lot of times they were like, “Can we please have this song? Can we please have this song? How do we get our hands on this song?” So I wanted to make sure that they had a good quality version of that show. And I love the show so much. It’s the story of my life. I’ve done so many Wizard of Oz and Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella things, things that I love so much. I gotta milk this for all it’s worth, because I don’t think I can do anymore Wizard of Oz things after this for a while! [Laughs] I might lose subscribers on my YouTube channel! But The Wizard of Oz is my favorite story, so it made sense that I would do something big and grand for my followers.
Tell me about blending your story with The Wizard of Oz.
I felt like in the industry there was a lot of things that were happening that, in my opinion, could only be explained as racism or homophobia or sexism, things that really bothered me that were happening in our country. I didn’t want to be that bitter person who was just holding court, talking to all my friends about how unfair life was. So I went to Hawaii for my anniversary with my boyfriend and I wrote a bunch of songs. I was so inspired I extended my stay there for a week, and I decided after seeing Lemonade that I should turn these songs into a visual album. I wanted to tell the story of my life. I was a kid who grew up different in Texas, much like Dorothy feels in Kansas. She wanted to go somewhere else. But in life we often feel like we need other people, even in relationships or in business, we think we need other people to give us permission to do things instead of taking matters into our own hands. I’m not gonna wait for some wizard, who doesn’t really have the power to help me anyway, to give me what I need when I can get it myself. That’s basically what I’ve done my whole career on YouTube, but for some reason it didn’t apply to recording music. I wanted to move to L.A. to become a recording artist, but everyone said no to me. “You’re not going to be able to chart on the pop charts.” I don’t have a record deal or whatever. But I put my song out that I self-produced on iTunes and now RuPaul and I are in the top 20 of the pop charts. We’re the number 4 top album today.
Are you concerned at all about being so closely identified with this one story?
I don’t get concerned with things like that. If I can be identified with The Wizard of Oz and that’s something that people think of me when they see me, I don’t think that’s a problem. I used to think it was a problem, but now I think that’s really, truly who I am. I have it tattooed on my arm. It says “Made in Oz” on the back of my neck. If that’s not a sign that I’m committed to this story then nothing is! [Laughs] I do think as artists we should evolve and get new ideas, but as of right now, no, I’m not concerned about that.
Can you see yourself ever leaving The Wizard of Oz behind?
Yeah, absolutely. I think it needs to happen, for sure. And I don’t know that I would do anything elseWizard of Oz related. Right now I would love to start doing music that is just me by myself, but honestly as a human, if I’m being frank with you, sometimes people get afraid to try new things. I try to preach that to people all the time, but I get terrified as an artist that if I put out an album that didn’t have anything to do with— I found this algorithm that if you put your own spin on something that was Disney-related or fairy tale-related, which I love, then it would be searchable, that people could identify with it. That was the reason I got the following that I got. So it’s a very scary idea to just go out and put out a great song and hope that just because it’s a great song it gets the acclaim that it deserves. But now I really, truly believe that I’m in a position now that I could do that, and I’m ready to do that after this project. I really want to write an album that people can just listen to and appreciate because it’s great music.
What else is inspiring you these days?
There are things that I’m afraid to say because I jinkx my projects when I talk about them beforehand. But there are Broadway producers that want me to write shows. I would love to write a kids’ show. I would love to write a scripted series for Netflix or Hulu or YouTube Red. There are so many things I would love to do on top of writing an album. So when I’m done with this tour I’m going to decide which of those things I want to start working on first and just dive head-first into it. I just want to create art and I want people to see who I really am. There’s a lot of people that have watched my videos on YouTube and they think they know me, or they’re annoyed by my obsession with fairy tales. But they don’t really know me. If they ever hung out with me they’d be like, “Oh, you’re a lot different than I thought you were.” I get that all the time. So I really want to grow up and graduate and show people who I really am. I feel like I have a responsibility now as an open gay black male to fight for things that I’m really passionate about, that I haven’t felt the need to fight for before. But now with the [Trump] administration, I want to be a part of change. I want to be one of those people in the history books.
This post was originally published by Queerty and is republished here with permission.
Photo credit: YouTube/TodrickHall