Evaluate: TikTok introduces the way forward for theatre with ‘Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical’
If someone had asked me to watch a TikTok musical a year ago, I would have laughed out loud. I hadn’t even downloaded the app yet, so the idea of its users creating a Broadway-style production would have been unfathomable. Now I see how a year like 2020 can change my mind.
It all started when Emily Jacobson, a school teacher and TikTok user, was a Video She sang a new song about Remy, the rat cook in Disney Pixar’s 2007 film “Ratatouille”.
“Remy, the Ratatouille, the rat of all my dreams,” Jacobson sang in her TikTok. “I praise you, my ratatouille. May the world remember your name. “
And so it has.
“Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical” is the work of Thousands of TikTok developers. After Jacobson posted her video, composers, dancers, actors, designers, and other theater lovers posted their own contributions to the musical. Soon my TikTok feed was filled with elaborate choreography, and rat costumes Miniature set designs. Other creators wrote songs to complement Jacobson’s original, and a full-length musical concept emerged.
The month-long collaboration culminated in a virtual production of the show on January 1st, which was only streamed online over one night TodayTix. The show ran up to 72 hours later and featured a star-studded cast including Tituss Burgess as Remy, Kevin Chamberlin as Gusteau, and Adam Lambert as Emile.
When I sat down to watch Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical, I was skeptical. Although the back and forth on TikTok had been interesting, it seemed ambitious to actually produce the show.
The second I heard that Broadway Sinfonietta Orchestra, a group made up entirely of women – most of whom are women in color – begins to play, my doubts gone. This was going to be a real show, not just a fun concept. Since the pandemic started, I’ve longed for the excitement of sitting in a theater and hearing the orchestra play the first few notes of the opening number. Even though I was lying on my couch, it felt like I was going back to real theater.
Every song on the show felt special. Remy’s big solo “Remember My Name” could easily fit into the Broadway repertoire. Burgess gave a breathtaking performance and his energy and enthusiasm throughout the production were refreshing. He brought Remy’s lovable personality to life on the screen.
The ensemble did a fantastic job, especially in the dance sequences. Before watching it, I didn’t expect that there would be multiple full-fledged dance numbers in the virtual environment. To my surprise, I was greeted with a kickline, tap sequence, and lots of dancing rats, all of which were taped in the performers’ homes. The screen was filled with various zoom-style boxes, which made it appear as if the dancers were in the same room.
Other highlights included the many Broadway actors who graced the screen, such as Ashley Park (Colette), André De Shields (Anton Ego), Andrew Barth Feldman (Linguini), Mary Testa (Skinner) and Priscilla Lopez (Mabel). It was inspiring to see them embrace this new format as the pandemic has forced actors to rethink everything they knew about theater in the past.
Feldman, who got his first leading role on Broadway at the age of 16 in Dear Evan Hansen, was to play Linguini. Every aspect of his performance, from his powerful vocals to his fearful expressions, embodied the spirit of the character. The production even played with perspective to create the impression that Remy was tiny compared to Linguini, and it worked convincingly with Feldman’s acting. I loved the idea that Remy was actually standing under Feldman’s chef hat pulling his hair as he made the famous soup.
But what is most impressive about this show is the way it brought people closer together. It showed that even though we can’t physically be together, artists can still create something beautiful together. I suspect that due to the success we will see more TikTok collaborations like this one.
In addition, the production grossed over $ 1.9 million The Actor Fund, a national organization that provides financial assistance, affordable housing, and health care to those struggling in the entertainment industry. At a time when so many entertainers have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, the work of the Actor’s Fund is more important than ever.
Can a virtual musical really recreate the grandeur of Broadway? No. However, it can quite capture its essence and remind those of us in the theater industry why we do what we do. It’s a glimmer of creativity and hope when we need it most.
In the words of Anton Ego: “I didn’t like this musical, I loved it.”
“Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical” will play an encore on TikTok Live on January 10th at 8pm.