The first thing you need to know about Straight Outta Oz, an L. Frank Baum-inspired magnum opus by YouTube superstar Todrick Hall, is that it’s not meant to be taken as just a visual album, a la Beyoncé — it actually plays more like a musical; one that makes great use of several other performers that are featured, and not just as backup pieces, either.
Secondly, in spite of the clout he obviously possesses, it’s crazy to think that Hall is still sitting pretty on the cusp of fame, and not completely immersed in it. Luckily for him, several celebrities; including, but not limited to, an American Idol winner, several RuPaul’s Drag Race favorites (including most champion, Bob the Drag Queen), a popular comedian/musician, a wildly successful YouTube player and New York Times best-selling author, multiple TV stars, and a well-liked and well-respected Oscar-nominated actor with impressive singing chops, seem to be willing to do what they can to help him get there by loaning their faces to this project.
However, make no doubt about it: even if he did not have such an impressive support team in his back pocket, Straight Outta Oz is chock full of the power, influence and wonder to push Todrick into bonafide super-stardom all on its own — if that’s even what he wants, that is. We’ll explain.
Wisely using the all-too-familiar tale of the young girl who realizes that home is where the heart is, Straight Outta Oz centers on Todrick’s hope to live a life less ordinary than the one that his family, his religion, and his home in Arlington, TX is willing to provide him. He ultimately gets his fingertips on everything he ever wanted and more, but loses several important things along the way: his first love, his best friends, and the comfort provided by his beloved mother. As his career slowly rises and his notoriety progresses, the young talent eventually learns that even though he’s lost quite a bit, there’s so much more that he can lose in the merry ol’ land of Oz — or in this case, Hollywood.
In his fight for fame, we see Hall end up in situations that force him to feel heartless (like the Tin Woodsman), defenseless (the Cowardly Lion), and mindless (the Scarecrow). Just when he’s lost everything that truly makes him special, the dark reality of the life he leads not just as an entertainer, but as a gay, Black man who shot to fame through YouTube — yes, there is a reason why that aspect is noted (RIP Christina Grimmie) — forces him to understand that his duty is not just to sing and dance for us, but to remind those he entertains that they are the sole proprietors of the power necessary to change their lives, and the world.
Of course, if we’re meant to treat Straight Outta Oz more as a musical, then we cannot ignore mentioning the 17 songs that are heard throughout the production. Hall begins the aural tale with “No Place Like Home,” a booming, melancholy tune that warns listeners not to “listen to the lies that they feed you” in the “wicked, twisted fable” that is fame. “Over The Rainbow,” quite easily one of the most personal, albeit universal, songs of the bunch, is filled with lyrics that will tug at the heartstrings of anyone and everyone who has ever been told by their parents, their religious leaders, or the public-at-large that being gay is not okay.
“Maybe if you change the way you love,” Hall sings, “then maybe you go to a place where the streets are paved in gold.”
Things pick up with “Expensive,” a straight banger that will have you dancing and feeling like a million bucks, even if the threads you wear aren’t worth one-one millionth of that amount, and “Dumb,” a hip-hop inspired jam that asks a question most of us have brought up regarding today’s entertainment scope: is it just us, or are many of the famous faces who cover our magazines and our pop culture conversations really… well, dumb?
“The ones with the least talent are the most paid,” Hall states, “and I think that’s really dumb.”
You’re not the only one who thinks that, Todrick, we assure you.
Even though Hall runs this Straight Outta Oz show, it’s obvious that he’s not afraid to let several other players shine — and shine, they do! Former Glee actress Amber Riley, who portrays his mother through flashbacks, flawlessly belts out a tune called “Lions, Tigers, and Bears,” a wondrous ode about protecting her son from anything and everything (except for spiders!), while Pussycat Doll and X-Factor judge Nicole Scherzinger turns up as a hilarious yet predatory talent scout during “Papi.”
However, while both ladies are absolutely perfect in their scenes and songs, the sash for “Best Cameo Appearance” ultimately belongs to the big name who turns up as Todrick’s former manager in “Blah Blah Blah.” In an effort to create some suspense before watching, their name won’t be mentioned here, but a word of warning: if you were not aware of this person’s singing prowess before viewing Straight Outta Oz, prepare to be blown away.
In fact, prepare to feel that way about Hall once you take Straight Outta Oz all in. The songs are perfectly crafted, the story is inspirational and real, and the man behind it all is in-your-face in the best of ways with his bold and boundless talent. It boggles the mind to think that somehow, this kid still doesn’t have a place among the many who are rich and famous — but perhaps that’s the ultimate moral of this story: you should never settle for fitting in when it’s obvious you were born to stand out.
[Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images]