At midnight Jan. 1, people around the world celebrated the new year with sparkling cider, Zoom parties and prayers that 2021 would be a better year for the world compared to the disaster that 2020 turned out to be.
However, the folks over at TikTok rang in the New Year differently, as the short video content platform combined forces with a few creatives on Broadway to bring the world a new musical for 2021: “Ratatouille.” Released on Jan. 1 and available online through the 5th, this crowd-source musical is a testament to the power and influence of social media on entertainment.
Based on the 2007 Pixar film of the same name,“Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical” or “Ratatousical” is a short, completely crowd-funded Broadway-style musical filmed using the app TikTok that features a full score and an all-star cast of musicians and TikTok stars alike.
It follows the story of Remy, a rat living in the sewers of Paris with a passion for cooking and an inability to get anywhere near a professional kitchen, and the oafish Alfredo Linguini, a young man working as a busboy in one of Paris’ most famous restaurants. When their paths unexpectedly cross, the two find that, with Remy as the secret chef controlling Linguini from beneath his chef’s hat, together they can cook their way into culinary fame.
The original film was a smashing success, with director Brad Bird winning a “Best Animated Film” Oscar in 2008. Although “Ratatouille” is a well-made, heartfelt film enjoyed extensively by both children and adults, it doesn’t seem like the ideal material for a musical.
Yes, it’s set in the kitchens of Paris and features a slew of interesting and complex characters who would no doubt have much to sing about if given the chance. But the human-animal cast, coupled with the fact that one of the major plot points is that Remy controls Linguini from hidden beneath his chef’s hat, “Ratatouille” presents a challenge for stage directors. Perhaps this is one of the main reasons that in the 13 years since the film’s release, it has yet to premiere on Broadway alongside other animated favorites like “Shrek” and “Beauty and the Beast.”
The creation of “Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical” can largely be attributed to TikTok users, particularly the 26-year-old school teacher Emily Jacobsen who began the #ratatousical trend on TikTok. After seeing news that Disney was adding a new Ratatouille ride to their Walt Disney World theme park, Jacobsen found herself writing a small refrain for Remy, “the rat of all our dreams'' and posting the song — edited to sound more cartoonish and mouse-like — to TikTok.
This song sparked an avalanche of support on TikTok with musicians and creators writing songs, creating makeup looks and Playbill cover art as suggestions for what should be done for the musical. Several celebrities and Broadway stars including Keven Chamberlain from Disney Channel’s “Jessie” and Andrew Barth Feldman who starred as Evan Hansen in the smash-hit musical, “Dear Evan Hansen,” added their voices to the movement. Chamberlain wrote a song for Chef Gusteau and Feldman sang a rough-cut version of “Anyone Can Cook '' on their TikToks.
The downpour of popular support caught the attention of musician and composer Daniel Mertzlufft, who used his musical know-how to enlist the help of a forty-piece orchestra to arrange Jacobsen’s refrain into an epic finale for the not-yet-created musical.
With Disney unofficially signing off on the project, work on “Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical” began. As Mertzlufft composed the score, Tony award-winning Broadway producer Greg Nobile set to assembling an all-star cast including Feldman, Chamberlain, actor Tituss Burgess, comedian Wayne Brady, former American Idol winner Adam Lambert and rising star singer and actress Ashley Park.
As the #ratatousical movement gained traction and media attention, Nobile and Mertzlufft decided to turn the project into an opportunity to make an impact. Teaming up with the nonprofit Broadway Cares, the creative team sold tickets to the streamed show to help support actors and their families who are out of work due to the pandemic. With the musical available online from Jan. 1-5, over $1,800,000 was raised for Broadway Cares, a testament to how much people miss theater and live performance during this lockdown.
The incredible success and support that the musical garnered on social media and during its online premiere may prompt a stage adaptation of the musical once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted from theaters and live performances.
Regardless of if “Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical'' ever makes it to the bright lights of Broadway, it’s safe to say that this small, 45-minute online piece might be an introduction to what theater could look like in the post-COVID-19 world.
There were some cringy elements of the musical, such as the overuse of TikTok filters, the inclusion of TikTok dances like the Renegade that didn’t match the tone or style of the musical at all and Feldman’s awkward flailing, that need to be ironed out. But with an uplifting score and some incredible performances by Park and Feldman, “Ratatouille” proves that perhaps there’s a way to merge media and live performance in the future. With big-ticket Broadway shows becoming less and less accessible to audiences as ticket prices and demand skyrocket, media might be a new way to allow more people to experience live theater and pre-recorded shows.
Although it’s unlikely that there’ll ever be a phenomena quite like “Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical” again, the show has opened up doors to greater audience accessibility and has likely redefined the process of how and by whom shows are made.
Contact Alexandra Dauchess at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture and Instagram @breeze_culture.