Beginning in October, thousands of TikTok creators who were bored at home and missing Broadway created elements of a show that didn’t exist yet: a musical based on Disney Pixar’s “Ratatouille,” an animated film about a rat with culinary aspirations.
In 60-second increments, people contributed their own songs, dances, makeup looks, set designs, puppets and Playbill programs inspired by the 2007 movie. Without any leadership, the virtual show materialized organically from a crowdsourced jumble of content.
It was a musical conceived like no other. Many creators thought it was a long-shot before it could coalesce in real life. But on Friday at 7 p.m. Eastern time, “Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical” will take shape as a virtual benefit performance, with Tituss Burgess starring as Remy the rat. About 80,000 tickets have already been sold for the pre-filmed show, put on by Seaview Productions to raise money for the Actors Fund. It will be available to stream for three days.
The musical follows, more or less, the plot of the movie: Remy, who’s blessed with a refined palate, teaches the lowly kitchen worker Alfredo Linguini how to cook by hiding under his chef’s hat. Linguini rises to the top of his restaurant in Paris, only to be judged by the imperious critic Anton Ego.
We spoke to its creators about the challenges of making a virtual show adapted from TikTok segments adapted from film. These conversations have been edited for clarity and condensed.
Andrew Barth Feldman
The actor, who was in “Dear Evan Hansen,” playing Alfredo Linguini.
How did you get involved?
My friend Nathan asked me to sing one of the songs on TikTok. People have been telling me that I looked like this character for years. I love the movie, and I always felt that this character resonated with me. I think we’re both generally anxious people with an undying optimism. He’s clumsy in a cartoony way, and he’s so unabashed in what he does. He has a passion for wanting to do right by everyone. The nervousness paired with the optimism feels very me.
How long have you been rehearsing?
This is the quickest turnaround for a Broadway show that I’ve ever seen in my life. That first conversation had to have been three weeks ago. This has all moved so, so quickly. It’s all one big romp of a time.
What’s one challenge to presenting a show online?
It’s funny because we’re doing this remotely. I’m not looking at any of these people. There was one point where it was the end of the day, and I was having trouble. I found this stuffed animal of Remy I have and put him off camera to film the scene — to feel the stakes of the story and remember it’s about a rat whose controlling a hat.
André De Shields
The actor, who was in “The Wiz,” playing Anton Ego.
Any similarities between you and Anton?
There was no time to do any research, so I had to trust the casting director who said, “This is for you. We want you to do this.” I haven’t seen the film, but in terms of playing Anton Ego, who is this snooty food critic, you learn he has turned his nose up at the ratatouille that’s served to him in the restaurant. You learn that’s how he grew up. That’s what his mother gave him as a child. When he tastes the ratatouille, he regresses to his childhood. You see he’s been wearing a mask all his life, and all he needed was a reminder of how happy he was as an ordinary kid.
How is this show different from live ones performed onstage?
We don’t improvise very much in the theater because there’s a script for us to run, and everyone’s expecting you to say what’s in the written thing. In terms of the distance between all of the collaborative people involved, if something didn’t come out exactly right, than we made use of that spontaneous inspiration. There’s no mistake in jazz. You say, “That’s what I intended to do, now the rest of you follow along.” That’s what “Ratatouille” is all about.
The director, who previously co-directed and co-wrote “Six: The Musical.”
What was your vision for the show?
The thing that’s really interesting about the original TikTok materials and submissions is that the aspiration for it was so broad. Despite being on a format on the cutting edge of tech and the most Gen-Z thing in the world, people were aspiring to be like a classic musical. The challenge of doing that in the least theatrical space ever — online — was trying to remain true to that aspiration. The aim is a Zoom reading or an online concert that drank 20 Red Bulls and spit on the screen.
The music supervisor and arranger, who wrote some of the “Ratatouille” songs.
Tell me about your role on the show.
Basically my job was to take the nine songs we were pulling from TikTok and create some kind of story and a full cohesive score. That was the challenge because some of the songs we’re only a minute long, and we had to expand them. We had to write new songs to fill in some spots. We wrote part of a new opening number and an “I want song,” where the character sings what they want and hopefully they get it.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
I had my first meeting Dec. 4 with the folks at Seaview. They gave me a call and said, “Hey, we have this crazy idea. Disney has given us the allowance to do a benefit for the Actors Fund of ‘Ratatouille.’” They said, “Yeah, we’d like to do this on Jan. 1,” and I took a deep breath and said, “Yeah, that’s possible.”
All of us were working 24/7 the first few weeks of December trying to finish all this. It was a return to normalcy for theater and the collaboration. Although the deadline was insane, of course I said yes. Who else can make insane deadlines like that happen besides theater people? I would do a song a day. This is months, if not years, of work that we did in two weeks. Even though it was a challenge, I loved being up until 3 a.m. Christmas morning mixing songs. We’ve all missed the feeling.
The set designer, who works as a photographer.
Tell me about your shoe-box set models.
“Ratatouille” takes place in Paris, so how can I create a Paris backdrop for an actual stage? How can I create different drops for different scenes?
The very first “Ratatouille” set model that I posted [on TikTok] and designed a set for, I got the idea from a picture from Pinterest. It was just a silhouette of Linguini with a chef’s hat, and it had a shadow of Remy. I took that, cut that out, lit it up using projections. Then I made sure that the hat was transparent so Remy could come from the back of it, and that’s when the whole set building started. It’s crazy to look at these TikToks again and see where I was and where I am now.
This event really highlights a lot of the TikTok creators, and we’re very happy we got this recognition. We can take our content and do something good with it, not only raise money for the show but make sure that Broadway comes back stronger than ever.