How 'Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical' Came Together and How It's Helping Live Theater

Any fan of Pixar's Ratatouille knows that the film's core message is "Anyone can cook," whether it's a rat with a diverse palette or a hopeless line cook. Well, that lesson doesn't apply just to food.

Across several months in 2020, TikTok creators put together an impromptu, DIY musical adaptation of the 2007 Disney flick. Really, it was just a trend that took off, with individual creators coming up with their own original song-and-dance numbers inspired by the characters and themes in Ratatouille. But, like the best internet trends, it took on the feel of a group project, almost like virtual community theater—all during a period of time when live theater has been on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, all of that material has been adapted into a more professional production: a pre-recorded, virtual concert experience that's streaming on New Year's Day, January 1, and benefiting The Actors Fund.

Ratatouille Musical Poster TikTok
The artwork shared on the "Ratatouille" musical Twitter account. Screenshot/Twitter

Presented by Seaview Productions, Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical brings together an all-star cast, including Tituss Burgess as Remy, Wayne Brady as Django, Tony-winner André De Shields as Ego and Ashley Park as Colette. The show will be made up of songs that got their start on the video-sharing app, plus at least one new original song written especially for the benefit. Disney has given its seal of approval for the event, offering cheeky co-signs across social media. As of Tuesday, the show had sold almost 60,000 tickets.

The musical can all be traced back to Emily Jacobsen, 26, a Westchester, New York-based ESL teacher. In August, she recorded and posted to TikTok a silly original song inspired by an upcoming Ratatouille-themed ride in Orlando, Florida's Disney World. The song has since come to be known as "Ode to Remy." Despite Jacobsen intending it to just be a silly one-off video, popular TikToker Brittany Broski used the audio in an October video of her own, which was broadcast to her millions of followers, some of whom thought the song sounded like it belonged in a musical. From there, more and more users decided to share their own tributes to Ratatouille.

@phisherpryc

Reply to @michelleanderson194 60 seconds does not an overture make @e_jaccs #ratatouillemusical @danieljmertzlufft

♬ original sound - Alec Powell
@ryandavidjacobs

@fettuccinefettuqueen here’s my submission to the #ratatouillemusical ... and Chef Skinner is NOT happy about it #ratatouillethemusical #fyp #musicals

♬ original sound - Ryan Jacobs

Ideas about inclusion and opening doors for all are key to the Pixar film. Jacobsen said that hopefully the new production will be a sign that more amateurs, more fans who simply have a passion for things like musicals and Pixar, will be able to participate more in the entertainment industry.

"These things popping up on TikTok were at first just these everyday, average people and so the project was this great opportunity to contribute towards something and join in on the fun," she told Newsweek recently. "And it was only because of these everyday, ordinary people that suddenly the pros started jumping in as well on TikTok and other platforms to be a part of this greater movement for something new, something that's never been done before, but still based on something that people are familiar with."

@aaacacia_

#duet with @blakeyrouse sorry for the lack of enthusiasm but i was trying to remember it #WeWinTogether #fyp #ratatouillemusical #musical #singer #fyp

♬ original sound - Yay Blake Rouse!!

In October, New York-based composer and arranger Daniel Mertzlufft, 27, expanded on Jacobsen's a capella track to add orchestrations and make her "Ode to Remy" into a tune fit to close a show on the Great White Way.

It makes sense then, that Mertzlufft serves as the music supervisor for Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical. He also handled arrangements for the production and wrote a new song. But Mertzlufft wasn't alone; as the idea of really putting together a musical centered on Ratatouille's Remy the rat gained traction, at least a dozen TikTokers tried to pitch in, and shared their ideas for songs over the app.

"That was one of my big challenges, was trying to find cohesion between all the songs so that it feels like one score, even though it is written by lots of different people," Mertzlufft said in a phone call. "The songs are so much fun. I really loved every single one of them and creating new underscoring and expanding them, and giving them full Broadway treatments was such a pleasure."

Aside from looking to his peers on TikTok, Mertzlufft said that when filling out the songs more, he drew on some of the Mouse House's heavy hitters for inspiration, like tunes from Beauty and the Beast and Hercules. "I decided to lean really heavily into the old Disney classics, leaning into those [Alan] Menken-[Howard] Ashman scores and trying to create that, but also use some modern musical theater ideas and bring that all in," he explained.

Brooklyn-based writers and producers Michael Breslin, 29, and Patrick Foley, 30, wrote the book for the upcoming concert. Foley said that while they were doing research for another live-streamed theater project—a queer comedy called Circle J**k, which was also inspired by TikTok—the pair kept seeing posts about the makeshift Ratatouille musical that was unfolding on TikTok, and they were excited when they were approached to work on the show by producer Greg Nobile.

With ideas coming from both the beloved Pixar movie and the songs on TikTok, Breslin said that their work was primarily about piecing together the existing media into a fresh book. "It's really been a curatorial and dramaturgical job of patching everything together into this bizarre, lovely, fun quilt that people will be seeing on January 1," Breslin said.

Up-and-coming lyricist, composer, playwright and director Lucy Moss, 26, who was one of the masterminds behind the musical Six, was tapped to direct the show via Zoom from London, England. The sheer amount of people who have shared ideas for the musical on TikTok has weighed on Moss.

"Every single person who's invested in this has a different idea of what they want to see, and how they want something to be done, and how they want something to be realized, and knowing that by definition, it's going to be hard to please everyone," Moss said in a Zoom interview. "I'm hoping that it's going to both be a delightful manifestation of some of the things that the TikTokers have been dreaming of, with the cast that we have and the way that they perform it so amazingly, but also [hoping] people that are diehard fans [of theater] to have a chance to hear and hopefully grow to respect and love the music that this community has created."

@shoeboxmusicals

#Duet with @fettuccinefettuqueen Thank you for the amazing song! Here’s the scene to match! #ratatouillethemusical #stagemodel #theater #setdesign

♬ original sound - Shoebox Musicals

Ultimately, though, the project is not just about appealing to Disney fans, or celebrating TikTok creators' ideas. Everyone Newsweek spoke to who was involved with Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical talked about how important it is to use the show as a way to support The Actors Fund, an organization that provides services like affordable healthcare and financial assistance, among others, to those working in entertainment. It's a cause that feels particularly necessary this year, which has obviously been devastating to the entertainment and theater industries.

Tickets range in price between $5 and $100. Viewers will all witness the same show, regardless of the price they pay; the only distinction is that more expensive tickets provide a more significant donation to The Actors Fund, as proceeds of the show are going toward that organization.

Actors Fund CEO and President Joseph Benincasa, 71, said that Disney, TikTok and Seaview all wanting to help benefit The Actors Fund was a key part of the show coming together. He also said that a short introductory PSA ahead of the show will tell people about the lives of those in the entertainment industry and let them know about all of the services that The Actors Fund provides.

With theater in a "moment of crisis," as writer Michael Breslin put it, Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical may also be an indicator of where theater will go—at least in the immediate future, as the pandemic continues. "This project shows that there are ways of employing people and of getting people excited about working on theater and paying them," he said.

Mertzlufft said he wants people to be inspired by this show being created in the way that it was—from scratch, thanks to people who just wanted to share their enthusiasm about something. "I hope what we take from it is that anyone can be part of a musical. It's the same theme of Ratatouille itself: 'Anyone can cook,'" he said. "The idea of this online collaboration and drawing from grassroots movement, where a teenager from Colorado and a songwriter from Australia and everyone in between can be a part of these shows. I hope that's what we take away from it."

Tickets to Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical can be bought with a donation online through TodayTix. For more details about the production and how to watch, head here.