“I had no idea what I was getting myself into and I had no idea what the response was gonna be, but I was overwhelmed and so excited that the response was positive.”
Todrick Hall is one of the hardest working people in show business. This quote of satisfaction for how well his original musical Straight Outta Oz was received could easily apply to any of his other recent creative pursuits, of which there are many. Earlier this year, Hall interrupted his tour to star as Lola in the Broadway production of Kinky Boots, and now, before embarking on a worldwide tour for Straight Outta Oz, he’s stepped into the role of slick lawyer Billy Flynn in Chicago. Hall spoke with Billboard the day after his first night on the Chicago stage about what his recent success means to him and what he hopes to achieve in the coming year.
In the midst of his starring in Chicago every night, Hall — an American Idol darling-turned-YouTube and TV personality — is gearing up to release Behind the Curtain, a documentary that chronicles the long process behind bringing Straight Outta Oz to life. The documentary additionally shows Hall rehearsing for the tour, going on tour, meeting his fans along the way and learning that he landed the role of Lola in Kinky Boots. “It’s a really full, complete view of everything that happened over a four-month period,” says Hall. “I think after watching this you’ll have a better glimpse into what it’s like to really work with someone like me.” Some of those people, Hall notes, are those he gushed about having featured in the project, such as Jordin Sparks, Nicole Scherzinger (whom he deems underrated), and Raven-Symoné.
Hall believes that his work ethic and tenacious spirit were born out of pure necessity combined with artistic desire. “The amount of opportunities that I was right to audition for were so small, being an openly gay African-American man in the industry… I just felt that I needed to get these things out in a way that didn’t make me seem like a victim or an angry black man,” Hall says. The Wizard of Oz has been his favorite story since he was a child — so much so that he has a whole arm of tattoos dedicated to the beloved classic — so repurposing the story to tell his own was the most natural and fulfilling way to do so.
That’s not to say Hall confidently tackles every new challenge that’s thrown his way. He admits that he struggles with facing his insecurities and that he’s grown from previously turning down roles out of fear of failing. “A couple of years ago, I would’ve said ‘no’ to a project like [Chicago] because I would be so nervous, because I’m deep down a super insecure person… I would just be so afraid of failing,” Hall recalls. “But now I’m like, ‘Fuck it, I’m gonna do everything that scares me.’ Those are the first things I’m gonna do. This year, I’m gonna do everything that scares me, because it’s so much more rewarding.”
Among those things he considers scary: skydiving, unfamiliar foods and vulnerability. “I would love to be in a relationship where I can just be 100 percent honest with someone, because to me, honesty is like showing your cards to someone, and once they know your cards, they can beat you at the game. The song ‘Lyin’ to Myself’ is all about that,” Hall explains. “I feel that in parts of my culture, it’s just not cool for African-American men to be open and vulnerable, or to smile in photos, or say that they’re okay with wearing the color pink, or say that they like theater. You’re put in this box that you’re supposed to be this one specific type of person. And while I’m clearly not in that box, I put myself in another box.”
If it wasn’t for his fans, Hall says, he wouldn’t have been able to even create said box in the first place. In Behind the Curtain, he’s excited that those fans will be able to see “the real, raw version” of Todrick Hall and how much of a workhorse he actually is. “When we say we didn’t sleep, we did not sleep. We were putting our lives at risk from sleep deprivation, not eating, and dehydration to make this album work because I was that serious about it. It was that important to me to make sure that we got it done for my fans, because my fans are the most important people in the world to me,” Hall remarks on the project’s hectic 2-week shooting schedule. “They have changed my life and let this Texas boy be able to experience so many things that I would’ve never dreamed of doing in a million lifetimes… I’m so grateful for them and I can’t thank them enough for everything that they do for me.”
After seeing what happened Behind the Curtain, they’ll be the ones expressing their gratitude.
Behind the Curtain will be screening for two nights only at New York’s IFC Theater on Wednesday, December 6, and at Dallas’ Texas Theater on December 13. It will also be available on digital platforms worldwide including iTunes, Amazon, and more on Tuesday, December 12.