Editor’s Note: Sydney is one of the Connecticut college students participating in the CT Critics Circle (CCC) Mentor Program. The purpose of this program is to bring young perspectives and voices into the CCC as well as a broad range of ethnicities and backgrounds. With live theater on hold, members of the CCC have been branching out to live streaming productions such as this one.
In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We sit, watch, and review. While we do toil over our words, there is no sweat produced, no vocal chords strained, or wigs in need of wearing. But we do have one thing in common with actors now: the world has crashed down around us, and we are left to pick up the pieces.
The lights have been dim on Broadway for nearly a year now, affecting the world of drama as we know it. Three shows now ─ Frozen, Mean Girls, and most likely Beetlejuice ─ have announced that while one day the doors of musicality will open again, theirs will not. It is a difficult time to create art when we cannot get together. But it is during the time of a pandemic that artists have been the most creative and resourceful.
Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical began as a few songs fitting within TikTok’s 60 second timeframe. Among the most popular are “Kitchen Tango”, written by @blakeyrouse. The song is a duet with the two main characters, Colette and Linguini. The original video of his concept now has over 360,000 likes. Once @aaacacia_ duetted, or rather replied, to his video with her singing Colette’s part, that video now nearly has 1,000,000 likes. Blake did not only create “Kitchen Tango”, but the song “The Rat’s Way of Life” as well that is meant to be sung by Remy’s brother.
The idea exploded across the social media platform, and other young songmakers began to showcase what they would love to see in a potential musical. @fettuccinefettuqueen made a song for Remy’s father to sing, titled “Trash is Our Treasure”. Her original video has over 300,000 likes.
Many others’ songs went viral, and soon legitimate Broadway performers were seeing this magic occurring on their screen. Kevin Chamberlin made a song of his own for Gusteau called “Anyone Can Cook”, with over 1,400,000 likes accumulating.
Soon it wasn’t only the singers adding to the show. Graphic designers began drafting potential playbills. Crew members jokingly began to add audio of what it would sound like behind the scenes should a real play be occurring. Dancers choreographed songs. Musicians added even more talent, creating a full orchestra. Costume designers even sketched possible costumes.
But this was all just for fun, right? It was a silly idea created by a group of creators who were all barely of legal drinking age. They were just kids entertaining a life outside of the pandemic we are all trapped in.
Yet there’s one thing people know about those involved in the arts: the show must go on despite all obstacles. With the help from the production company Seaview, the ticketing company TodayTix, and many famous performers, the creation of the all-online Ratatousical was underway. And even better: all funds were going to the Actors Fund, or were directly compensating the young songwriters who all made it happen in the first place.
The shows premiered on New Years’ Day, and people could watch it by buying a $5 ticket. However, it should be noted that this was a “pay as you like”, so viewers could donate more money if they wished.
The announced cast list was nothing less than impressive. Multiple Broadway actors that would normally be out of a job during a pandemic had leading roles, such as Tituss Burgess (Remy), Andrew Barth Feldman (Linguini), Ashley Park (Colette), and André de Shields (Anton Anton Ego). Other performers such as Adam Lambert (Emile) and Wayne Brady (Django) signed onto the project. A variety of Broadway actors filled in as the ensemble as well.
Of course, no one should have expected this to be of Broadway-caliber. No matter how hard one may try, it is impossible to recreate live performance online. However, there could have been some minor changes to make Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical more enjoyable.
The three main rats ─ Remy, Emile, and Django ─ all had widely different costumes. Though it is understandable that they may vary a bit due to any individual actor’s constraints at home, they were all so contrasting to the point where it was distracting. Wayne Brady painted on whiskers and a nose topped with a grey beanie and some ears. He also put on fingerless gloves to demonstrate how rats are often equated as thieves throughout the show. Adam Lambert surprisingly did not attempt any make-up to resemble a rat, but did wear a fluffy spotted coat. Lastly, Tituss Burgess simply wore a grey turtleneck. The rat ensemble was much more cohesive. All of them had large black ears and all donned similar colors. This made the viewer question whether the leads made these costumes to illustrate their character’s personality, or if they did not care to look the same.
Additionally, the script needed much more time in the workshop that unfortunately the Ratatouille team did not have. Internet slang within the script was poorly used, often feeling like it was written by adults who do not incorporate it in their daily vernacular. A poor choice was also made to use TikTok features during some of the songs. For example, TikTok has different filters such as a “ghost” feature that will fade an image of you in and out as you speak. Kevin Chamberlin used this when he played the ghost of Gusteau. This feature overall cheapened the look and was distracting to the performance. TikTok filters were also used during dance numbers, and it was once again distracting, mainly because it was shot in portrait mode. This means the entire format of the recording suddenly became vertical rather than horizontal, taking away from what could have been wonderful moments.
But it would be unfair to say that this was a bad performance, as it certainly was not. While there these shortcomings that could have been mended with more time and workshopping, this was a charitable event that raised nearly $2,000,000 for the Actor’s Fund. No one should be demanding a perfect, Tony-worthy show when this was created within a few month’s time, perhaps even less.
The best part of Ratatouille was easily the music, which began it all. The TikTok creators made a soundtrack that fits right into a perfect Broadway playlist. The catchy choruses and amazing vocals provided by the actors can easily get stuck in one’s head. To know they were all written by enthusiastic and talented teenagers/young adults on the internet just adds to the magic. The choreography also did not go unnoticed, especially during “I Knew I Smelled a Rat”. This was the one time a TikTok filter added to the performance. There is a feature to clone the person recording so it looks like there is a whole group of people performing the same action. So while there were only two tap performers, they cloned themselves to create an entire ensemble that was all in sync.
Overall, this was an impressive feat. What all started from one simple idea from a TikTok creator became a piece of art that would have never been created had we all not been confined to our screens. While Gusteau says, “anyone can cook”, this saying can be expanded.
Anyone can create. No matter the circumstances or environment, artists find their way.