BWW Review: STRAIGHT OUTTA OZ Spends One Short Day at the Thrasher-Horne
After loving his manipulation of the system on American Idol and watching his parody "Beauty and the Beat" on repeat for months a few years ago, I couldn't get my tickets to Todrick Hall's STRAIGHT OUTTA OZ fast enough. However, brilliant costumes and catchy, well-written songs cannot salvage this provoking concept that ultimately misses the mark. This is not my story or your story, and no one in the room is encouraged to see themselves in Todrick's story (unless we are one of the ensemble dancers). Todrick knows that, acknowledges it in the pricey playbill, and his fans do not seem to mind one bit.
Walking in to take my seat at the open of the show, I found the audience being "warmed up" by an emcee, much like one would experience at a concert. Attempting to adjust my expectations, (I expected a stage adaptation of the hour-long movie musical Todrick released last year), I prepared myself for less of a musical and more of a vignette approach. After the emcee's exit, a dance team clad in overalls came out, and although everyone was seated, the next 10 minutes were spent watching Todrick in street clothes, dancing and singing as one would if giving a concert. Color me confused, because this was not in line with Straight Outta Oz the film, and it was 15 minutes after curtain. It was as if Todrick Hall was the opening act for Todrick Hall. He welcomed the audience, encouraged photography and video recording, and set us up with a 3-minute projection laying the foundations of his story (so that he could change into epic costume number one). The actual musical production began at 8:30.
Much like the storytelling concerts of Michael Jackson or Britney Spears, there was much to see and soak in - strong costuming, flashy lights, and award-worthy choreography. Ensemble dancers Jamie Bennett and Jazlyn Miller are positively captivating, and the ridiculously tight harmonies and independent ranges of the three Divas, played by Simone Gundy, Virginia Cavaliere, and Tiffany Mann will make your eyes water more than once. Despite this sensory overload, the production lacks focus. Clearly the focus is supposed to be Todrick, but his erratic transitions fall short in connecting the audience with his intent. This is clear in the game of popcorn the audience was left playing for two hours - I would sit and stand and sit and stand and sit only to stand again because the person in front of me stood up and if I wanted to give an accurate depiction of the production, I needed to be able to see it, so I too would stand up. Don't get me wrong, I love a good booty-shaking, hands waving, scream your heart out show. The publicity of this production though, never clearly defined the terms of the experience (is it a concert? Is it a musical?), leaving the audience left to stand and sit and stand and sit - that confusion was widespread, and many around me were grumbling and sighing as they stood up for the 7th time (I guess they thought they were seeing a musical, too).
The physical confusion was a gateway for emotional confusion, as well. Todrick attempts to tackle not only the depraved brokenness and transcendence of his own youthful experience, which is enough of a theme for any show; he also attempts to address several social issues: the lure and darkness of Hollywood, LGBTQ advocacy, police brutality, and the heartbreaking attack at Pulse. Each number stands alone as a strong statement. The production leans completely on the audience's familiarity with the Wizard of Oz for transitions though, and the audience gets left behind, processing the magnitude of what was addressed in the former scene with little artistic assistance in preparation for the next. Particularly, the powerhouse number Water Guns proclaims, "These ain't waterguns and please save our sons and daughters. What are we fighting for? 'Cos these ain't waterguns no more," while images of Treyvon Martin and the victims from Pulse Nightclub are projected on the wall behind him. A beautiful tribute, this song ended and we were whisked away to a big, flashy number, left to scrape our own hearts off the ground. Being only an hour and half away from the scene at Pulse, this scene could have triggered many audience members, and the lack of respect in that moment (albeit unintentional) left me nearly unrecoverable.
Todrick closes his show with an "encore". The encore featured several Disney songs set to 90's hits, and was the best part of the evening, mostly because Todrick told us to get up and dance, so as an audience, we finally knew our role. His final moment was given to his three biggest fans of the night: a sweet young girl, someone celebrating a birthday, and a woman named Soledad, whom Todrick proceeded to kneel for, proposing marriage. As she confusingly considered her position, her boyfriend swooped in, took his knee, and proposed in front of the crowd. It was a beautiful moment, and an inclusive way to finish his show. No diamonds rings or perfectly pitched happy birthdays could save the end result, though. STRAIGHT OUTTA OZ has much potential, but it desperately needs to return to a workshopping phase to weed out what works, what doesn't, and to ultimately define it's "why".