Disney’s live-action redo of “Beauty and the Beast” may be a monster hit at the multiplex, but if you’re ever in the mood to see a more, shall we say, urban version of that story, go over to YouTube and check out “Beauty and the Beat.” It’s a 5-minute parody of the “Belle” song, where the titular heroine is sauntering her way through the ’hood (reading an issue of Ebony throughout) instead of a village.
This video, which has garnered nearly 9 million views since dropping four years ago, is another lavish production courtesy of Todrick Hall. The man, who is listed as being 32 years old but believes that to be “a myth” (“I believe that I’m 23,” he says with a laugh), is something of a viral-video celebrity. His YouTube page, which has 2 million subscribers, is full of song parodies and massive musical numbers he’s conceived and starred in, many of them with views reaching the millions. So, if Hollywood came calling and asked Hall to do a, let’s say, ethnic re-imaging of “Beast,” would he jump at the chance?
“It’s something that I would be interested in,” says Hall, calling from Denver. “There are other things that I’m, like, a lot more interested in – twisting fairy tales on their head.”
Indeed, Hall has been concentrating on touring the country with his most ambitious project: a soulful re-imagining of “The Wizard of Oz” called “Straight Outta Oz,” which he will perform Thursday, April 20, at Duke Energy Center’s Fletcher Opera Theater.
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“Oz” is more than just a stage show. Last year, “Oz” was released as both a studio album and a visual album that can be seen on, of course, YouTube. (Last month, Hall released a deluxe edition that features four new songs.) The album features appearances not only from his fellow YouTubers, but also Raven-Symone, Tamar Braxton, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nicole Scherzinger and Hall mentor RuPaul.
This project came about while he was vacationing with his boyfriend in Hawaii last year. In typical Hall fashion, ol’ boy just plowed through composing and producing this thing.
“It took me about two to three weeks to write it and, then, two weeks to film the videos,” he says. “But, I literally didn’t do anything but eat, sleep and write music… The reason why it was easy for me to do ‘Wizard of Oz’ so quickly is because it’s always been my favorite story since I was a young child. And so it was really easy for me to, like, find the motivation and figure out ways to twist it on its head.”
But “Oz” isn’t just Hall once again retweaking a beloved tale. It’s also an autobiographical fable, as Hall recalls growing up a singing/dancing outcast in small-town Texas, eventually coming to terms in his teenage years with being gay and heading to Hollywood, where the one-time “American Idol” semi-finalist learns that the road to becoming a gay, black pop star has a lot of obstacles.
“I just felt like I was in a place where I really wanted to tell this story, and I didn’t want to be the ‘bitter black guy’ who was complaining that the world had been unfair to him,” he says. “Because, in comparison to my other friends, I’ve had seemingly a semi-pleasant life, at least.”
When Hall began touring with “Oz” last summer, he stopped it short to star on Broadway as Lola in the musical adaptation of “Kinky Boots.” And, yet, Hall still has his issues with the biz.
“I did have things about the industry that really, truly frustrated me and still do to this day,” he says. “And I feel like this is the best way for me to express how I felt without ostracizing an audience and making them feel accused or attacked for not being, you know, victimized by these same issues. It was really, really important for me to be able to just express how I felt in an artistic way. And I think we really, really achieved that.”
Hall says that no matter what happens in his career, he always will be there for his online audience, the same people who made him one of the hardest-working entertainers on YouTube.
“I plan to continue making music videos as long as I can, and keep feeding that audience,” he says. “Because they’ve been so good to me, and they honestly changed my life.”
What: “Todrick Hall Presents ‘Straight Outta Oz’”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, April 20
Where: Fletcher Opera Theater, 2 E. South St., Raleigh