Raymond Lee is more than just a triple threat. A stage performer who has been in the Broadway casts of “Mamma Mia” and “Anything Goes,” he doesn’t just act, sing, and dance – and do cartwheels and cartoon voices….and play the violin and the trombone. He also makes videos – often of his fellow performers.
“I grew up on MTV and VH1 and have always wanted to direct music videos,” he’s said, but modestly considers himself a “Youtuber.”
A year ago, he directed his fellow cast members in “Anything Goes” –including stars Joel Grey and Stephanie J. Block — to lipsynch the One Direction song, “What Makes You Beautiful”
The video, which took just a week and a half to make in-between performances, became a sensation. It so far has attracted 400,000 views
Now he has a new video that is creating buzz. The cast of Kinky Boots and other shows (“Annie,” “The Lion King”) AND a slew of celebrities — from Katie Couric to Whoopi Goldberg — lip-synch “Kinky Boots” songwriter Cyndi Lauper’s 30-year-old pop song, “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.”
In the past 24 hours, more than 50,000 people have looked at it. I thought it would be a good time to ask him some questions.
Jonathan Mandell: How did this latest video come about, and how did you get the celebrities to participate?
Raymond J. Lee: I was very lucky to work with O&M, the press company that handles Kinky Boots on Broadway. They had seen my Anything Goes “What Makes You Beautiful” video on YouTube and contacted me a couple of months ago and I immediately signed on board. We basically teamed up forces. If it involves Broadway and music videos, I’m there! They used their contacts to secure amazing people like Whoopi Goldberg, Katie Couric, Kelly Ripa, Kathie Lee & Hoda, and Rosie O’Donnell and then it was my job to meet them and direct them for the video. I couldn’t even let myself get starstruck for the sake of the video! We made a stellar team and I had an absolute blast working with everyone.
The only actual girl wanting to have fun in the video, I notice, is Lilla Crawford, the star of “Annie.” Where are the Matildas?
I don’t know where the Matildas were! I’m sure the company contacted them but because it’s Tony season I’m sure they were just swamped with rehearsals. I’m actually seeing Matilda very soon and can’t wait to root them on! I’ve heard fantastic things about the production.
This is by my count your 80th video. How many have gone viral? Which are your favorites?
I basically count the Anything Goes “What Makes You Beautiful” video as my first viral video, but we had no idea it would become one. Basically it was a fun project that I wanted to do because the cast was such a great group of people and we loved goofing off together. Once it took off, it was exciting to see the video displayed everywhere on Facebook, Twitter, and the Internet. I probably count that as my favorite because I still watch it to remember the good times we had, and it also showed a lot of people what I could do as a filmmaker.
Actually my FIRST ever viral video (now that I think about it) was my Glee audition video! I had seen the Glee pilot and wanted to be on the show so badly. So I thought, why not make a video and see if I could get on the show that way. My audition video eventually did end up in the hands of Fox casting and forwarded to Ryan Murphy, which was pretty exciting.
I notice you didn’t make it to “Glee” but you did guest-star on “Smash.” Did that have any connection to your videos?
When I found out I was going to guest star on “Smash” I was just thrilled! To make my network episodic television debut on a TV show about Broadway felt absolutely perfect. I got the role on “Smash” through the typical audition process but I’m hoping maybe other casting directors have seen my videos and will want to write me a part on their shows very soon. Especially the casting directors of “Scandal” and “The Walking Dead”!
Hopefully, you’ll be able to use your own voice! Have you done a lot of lip-synching videos?
I also did a farewell video for Anything Goes to OneRepublic’s “Good Life”
as well as a farewell video at the end of my run at Mamma Mia (which wasn’t lip synched).
This past winter I also did a fun dance lip dub to One Direction’s “Kiss You.” I asked seven friends of mine to indulge me in my first dance video and we ended up filming all throughout the Meatpacking District and the Highline. It was a COLD day but we had fun and definitely ended up at a bar afterwards for some hot spiced cider.
What are your other videos like? I know you did one for the victims of the Newtown shooting.
The first major videos I put on my channel were clips from my cabarets as well as song covers I would record and put online.
The Newtown video was very important to me. I just wanted to let the people of Newtown, Connecticut know that that New York Theater and Broadway community was thinking about them and sending them all our prayers and thoughts. The Broadway community always comes together to support those in need and I just feel fortunate to have been able to work together with everyone to share this important message. We actually received an email from one of the parents who lost their child at Sandy Hook Elementary and we were all incredibly humbled. I think music has an important power to get messages across more than just words itself.
How did you get started in making videos?
From as early as I can remember, I always had a video camera in my hand. My parents actually gave me a camcorder when I was young and I remember filming everything I could. I’m a very visual person and was also inspired by the films and television shows I watched as a kid. I went to Northwestern University and eventually switched over from a pre-med chemistry track to the radio/television/film department because I knew I wanted to be behind the camera and a filmmaker.
Which came first, your video career or your theater career?
Actually my classical music career came first. I was trained in the violin ever since Kindergarten and that was my first experience with music. My theater career came next because I remember playing in pit orchestras for shows and realizing that I actually wanted to be on the stage. My video career definitely followed right after and once I learned how to edit on a computer, it was like opening up Pandoras box, and I’ve been making videos ever since.
I notice on your resume online, you mention everything under Special Skills — cartwheel, kayaking, dialects (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, British, and Southern), Instruments (Violin, Viola, Basic Piano, trombone) — EXCEPT video-making. Why is that?
WOW I didn’t even realize that! Thank you for pointing that out. I don’t think I’ve updated my special skills section in years and need to do that ASAP. Plus there’s probably some stuff on there I should take out…haha.
If you were told you had to give one of them up — either your video-making career or your theater career — which would it be?
That is such a hard question! It’s like asking if I have to give up food or water for the rest of my life. I think I will always be doing both. I know I love to perform and I know I love to direct and make films. I see myself starring in a Broadway show while simultaneously doing pre-production for a film while checking in with a TV show that I’m executive producing. I know I have a lot of dreams but it keeps me going in life and really motivates me to be my best.
Update February 5, 2015 (Raymond J. Lee’s birthday): Lee is now in Honeymoon in Vegas, for which he created this cover of the Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars hit Uptown Funk.