Most people who have heard of Texas-born Todrick Hall know him from his viral YouTube videos, where he has earned millions upon millions of views with clever parodies, covers, flash mobs and other musical delights. You might also recognize him from his time as a contestant on American Idol, or from his short-lived MTV show.
But the focus at his performance at the Verizon Theatre on Thursday night was on original material. And Straight Outta Oz, based on a visual album which in turn is inspired by The Wizard of Oz, isn't just original — it's at least somewhat autobiographical.
It's got what you would want out of a high-octane concert: Catchy tunes, great voices, colorful costumes, killer choreography and so on. The thing that really sets it apart, though, is emotion.
Hall opened the show by briefly touching on his childhood and telling the audience that he would like to take them on the journey of "that small Texas boy." The lyrics may talk about the Yellow Brick Road and the music manager might be called "The Wizard," but every song gave the audience full of screaming fans an explicit peek into his life, beginning with a place fans might not expect: Sunday school.
The gospel-like "Proud" takes the audience to church, where Hall stops for a moment to talk about growing up in the small Texas town of Plainview, where people would let you know if you were different (and Hall was). That's followed up by the surprisingly spiritual "Over the Rainbow," which looks at early memories of his father (played, in video form, by Wayne Brady).
After that? The gear shifts from spiritual to sensual, to the period of Hall's life when he began to discover and embrace his sexuality, falling for the boy from London, Gareth. The narrative thread that runs through Straight Outta Oz makes it feel less like you're at a concert and more like you're at a Broadway musical. The show has more in common with Hamilton than it does with a performance from the latest hit boy band.
It's a roller coaster, going from one major event to the next, but Hall spends most of the show talking about his time in "Oz Angeles," and the highs and lows of show business. These songs are, to put it simply, very millennial-focused, with one song entirely about social media.
The names have been changed to protect the innocent (or perhaps not-so-innocent, in some cases), but you don't have to dig too deep to connect some of the dots. The video he's convinced to make for "Monkey Airlines," for instance, clearly mirrors the time when he made the popular Virgin American dancing safety video.
There's just enough detail given that, when leaving the theater, the only thing I wanted to do more than hear more music was to sit down with Hall and just have a casual conversation about his upbringing, religion, his first love and other topics he touched on during his show.
Hall doesn't do all the work; some songs are performed primarily by other characters in the production. For instance, we sometimes get a break from high-energy beats thanks to some calmer songs from a singer playing Hall's mom.
One of the most powerful times when things slow down, though, is the song "Water Guns." Unlike most of the other songs here, this one is less narrative and more message, focusing on recent acts of violence we've seen in America. Before and during the song, screens in the theater showed news clips of tragedies such as the Sandy Hook shooting, the Orlando nightclub massacre, the killing of Trayvon Martin and the murder of fellow musician Christina Grimmie.
It all circles back to the theme any Wizard of Oz fan is familiar with: There's no place like home. This is where seeing the show in Dallas has a bit more oomph than seeing it elsewhere, because while Dorothy returns to Kansas, Hall returns to Texas. Concertgoers are used to musicians shouting out the name of the town they're in, but every time Hall references Texas in a song, he's not pandering.
"'Cause I'm blessed to be back where the best is, Texas, home sweet home that's my address," Hall sings in the closing number of Straight Outta Oz, and you get the sense that he means it.
While the original content was worth the price of admission on its own, Hall didn't let his fans leave without a few final thrills in the form of some of his popular mashups. He kicked off this encore with some Disney medleys focusing on the '90s with songs from classics like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin.
That was a treat, and the fans clearly loved it, but Straight Outta Oz proves that Hall has a lot more to offer beyond remixes.