“I will find my way,” sing five Muses dressed in white. The camera pans across five men, their mocha skin highlighted and glowing against a backdrop of muted oranges, purples, and blues.
Finding his way is exactly what Michael Korte did to fulfill his love for musical theatre. His belief in creating his own opportunities led the former Ohio University acting student to create his own YouTube channel of gospel- and R&B-inflected Broadway material. His most recent entry is the Hercules Muse Medley, a reimagining of “The Gospel Truth,” “Go the Distance,” and several other numbers from the Disney film Hercules, which was adapted for Shakespeare in the Park last summer is currently being readied for Broadway.
With the help of vocal arranger Bryson Camper, videographer Baxter Stapleton, and his five singers, James Wright Chanel, Keenan D. Washington, LaVance Colley, Cameron Wright, Tre “Rebel” Edwards, and Cameron Wright, Korte created a version centered around what he described as “wit and joy and gender fluidity,” earning him more than 2.4 million YouTube views and recognition from the Webby Awards.
Another mashup was in the works along with an original production for YouTube, until the COVID-19 pandemic brought both to a screeching halt. Korte was forced to stop rehearsals and filming on those projects, but he hasn’t let the lockdown stop him from bringing people together: A recent “You Will Be Found” challenge on Instagram featured Billy Porter, Lillias White, James Monroe Iglehart, and many other performers riffing on the Dear Evan Hansen ballad.
Korte started a YouTube talk show in 2015 because he wanted to be like Rosie O’Donnell. As a child in Dayton, Ohio, he grew up watching Broadway performers on O’Donnell’s show and tried to emulate her. “Everyone thought I just wanted to be Ryan Seacrest,” said Korte, who started out interviewing actors, singers, and dancers. “They thought my dream was to be crammed on a red carpet. With all due respect, I really thought I was much more interesting, much more creative than that.”
A year later, in 2016, Korte shifted to releasing his own content with #HAM4BEY, a melodic mashup of Beyoncé hits and songs from Hamilton. It was the first of many videos, some dedicated to iconic musicians (#PURPLE4PRINCE, #DREAM4DRAKE) and others done in remembrance (an earlier rendition of “You Will Be Found” as a tribute to the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting). Then there are those that are simply fun, like #GAGA4RENT or the Hercules Muses Medley.
All of Korte’s ideas start as just a thought. “I’ll sit and find a moment of stillness, and it just falls into me, like water in a well,” he said. “I find that the things I try to force, the universe doesn’t allow to happen.” From there, he works with his team to arrange the music, a crucial step that dictates all other aspects of the production.
His belief in allowing the universe to bring what’s meant for him carries over into casting. Instead of holding auditions, he lets people who want to be a part of his project come to him via social media. Only after he spends time with his chosen artists does he settle on an overall aesthetic. The final step after uploading the finished product to YouTube is a prayer and an expression of gratitude.
When Korte set out on this path, he was mainly aiming to create a lane for himself doing what he loved and was trained to do. However, as a staunch advocate for POC and LGBTQ issues, he quickly focused on putting people from those communities front and center.
“Race and sexuality is a big element in everything I do,” said Korte, who makes a point of including people from marginalized communities as members of his team. “This is my purpose,” he said. “It’s my way of being an artist, my way of being political, my remedy to things. My videos are my most authentic representation of me. That’s why I need to and want to keep doing this.”
Gracyn Doctor is a Goldring Arts Journalism graduate student at Syracuse University.