Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical may qualify as the most unusual Broadway-style song and dance show ever created.
It all began in the midst of the Covid pandemic, when a young school teacher, Emily Jacobsen, uploaded a 15 second ditty to the social media site TikTok in August 2020–a song she wrote that celebrated Remy, the rodent star of the 2007 Disney animated film Ratatouille. Almost immediately, musical theater amateurs and pros alike began to upload Ratatouille tunes of their own making, and an irrepressible movement was born.
Gifted composer Daniel Mertzlufft posted a sweeping, Disney-esque orchestration to Jacobsen’s tune. Later, Seaview, a forward-thinking Broadway production company, asked Mertzlufft and others to turn the burgeoning Ratatouille phenomenon into a full-on show. Seaview got Disney’s permission to go forward with a filmed version as a benefit for the Actor’s Fund.
“I could not believe that it had gone from the crazy online moment to something that was going to be real,” Mertzlufft recalled during Deadline’s Virtual House panel on Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical. “The whole movement started with… [Emily] singing a little song about Remy.”
Actor-singer Tituss Burgess was enlisted to play Remy in the movie. Broadway, TV, and film performers Kevin Chamberlin, Andrew Barth Feldman, Wayne Brady, and Ashley Park were among the stars who also signed on. Chamberlin and Feldman had been early enthusiasts, posting Ratatouille-inspired songs to TikTok well before a movie or musical was ever conceived.
“Kevin and I were two of the first people that were asked” to participate in the movie production, Feldman said, “because we had been part of this movement and sort of had our foot in both worlds.”
Chamberlin had only recently joined TikTok when the crowd-sourced Ratatouille bandwagon got rolling.
“We were all pretty much in lockdown and I watched the [original] movie and ‘Anyone Can Cook’ jumped out at me as the ideal song [I could write] and, actually, selfishly, a role I could be cast in,” Chamberlin remembered. “I sat down… and wrote ‘Anyone Can Cook’ in probably less than an hour, and then had my husband go get a chef hat. And I put on the chef hat and recorded it and posted it and the next day it had over a million hits and I was like, ‘What the heck is going on here?’”
Music director, orchestrator and producer Macy Schmidt was tapped to record the score, drawing on the talents of the Broadway Sinfonietta, an orchestra she founded to advance the careers of women musicians on Broadway, especially women of color. But making the recording in the midst of pandemic restrictions presented challenges.
“There were tons of obstacles,” Schmidt noted. “We recorded the entire score in a day, but actually times 4, because we had to separate all the sections because you couldn’t have more than four or five people in a room at a time. So the rhythm [section] recorded the score for like a quarter of a day, then the strings came in and recorded the score in a quarter of a day, and we had to do it four times. It was like a 16 hour day. It was absolutely wild.”
Mertzlufft, who wore many hats on the film production, including music arranger, collaborated with lyricist Kate Leonard to create the show’s signature song, “Remember My Name,” based on that original 15 second mini-tune made by Emily Jacobsen. It involved a reimagining of the wants and goals of Remy himself, the animated film’s hero of haute cuisine.
“In the [original] film the character was just after an opportunity to work with food and make new flavors and now we got to have a character who wants to be the best and wants to be remembered,” Leonard observed. “[That’s] a very classical musical theater perspective, and so that gave me a framework in which to just pop in a bunch of specifics, because the audience is going to know that feeling because they’ve seen it in so many other musicals. I was able to just make myself a little glossary of all of the jokes and rhymes and words that I wanted to include and then figure out the shape of the show and find out where each of them would fit in.”
Watch the full conversation in the video above.