By Kyla Dowling, Staff Writer
It started with a TikTok.
Creator Emily Jacobsen was fooling around and created a viral hit of herself singing a ditty about the titular character Remy in Ratatouille. Then, Daniel J. Mertzlufft (the mind behind TikTok’s lesser known production, The Grocery Store Musical) made a musical theatre arrangement of her song, entitling it the “Act Two Finale”. Soon after, TikTok creators began duetting and forming the Ratatousical, contributing anything from lyrics and choreography to orchestrations and playbill designs. The project was picked up by Broadway producers and the months-long project culminated in a one-weekend-only virtual show benefitting The Actors’ Fund.
The virtual show was evidently a labour of love. With cameos and credits from many prominent TikTok creators such as Gabbi Bolt, RJ Christian, and Blake Rouse, whose contributions made it to the final product, the production avoided the fate many feared — a cease and desist from Disney. The show starred Tituss Burgess from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as Remy, the rat who can cook. Because the show was only an hour long (despite the movie being nearly two hours), Burgess was burdened with having to give heavy exposition. It’s a testament to his skill as an actor that these frequent monologues were able to keep the audience engaged.
Burgess wasn’t the only talented cast member. The casting, done by Taylor Williams, was magnificent. Broadway’s Andrew Barth Feldman (of Dear Evan Hansen) starred as Linguini, the human chef who partners with Remy, and he brought brilliant comedic timing and all-star vocals to the role. He, as well as Kevin Chamberlin (Gusteau), were part of the production longer than their castmates — Feldman was recruited by a composer friend to sing as Linguini in a TikTok and Chamberlin wrote the first-act number “Anyone Can Cook.” The cast was rounded out by Ashley Park as fierce Colette, Wayne Brady as Remy’s father Django, Mary Testa as Chef Skinner, Priscilla Lopez as a terrifying old lady, and the formidable André De Shields as antagonist Anton Ego. The terrific leads were accompanied by a strong ensemble, including brief cameos of Twitter’s resident theatre comics (producers Patrick Foley and Michael Breslin, as well as Natalie Walker and Larry Owens) as pop-culture-reference-slinging reporters.
One of the more interesting casting choices was Adam Lambert as Remy’s rat brother Emile. Donning eyeliner, jewellery, and with a notable lack of rat ears, Lambert attempted to infuse his performance with an edginess and sexiness that just didn’t quite fit the part. It felt as though he decided to play himself, but as a rat.
It was those sorts of decisions that made the show less than it could have been. The lack of unison when it came to costume choices — such as rat ears, chef hats, and drawn-on whiskers — put a damper on the production. The way of merging each actor’s individual videos together, on the other hand, was quite engaging. As the old lady chased after the rats, she swept left and right, sending the videos of Remy and Emile running off the screen. That scene worked; however, the awkward way that Colette’s solo was backed up with videos of herself dancing did not. Given that the show came from Michael Breslin, Patrick Foley, and Jeremy O. Harris — the minds behind the hilarious and brilliant Circle Jerk, a virtual show that premiered in November, I expected something more cohesive.
With that said, the incorporation of these portrait-frame videos, as well as special effects, such as a grainy flashback of Gusteau, harkened back to the show’s origins: TikTok. In those flashbacks, Chamberlin’s TikTok handle could be seen on the side of the screen. Other special effects were recognizably from TikTok, such as how some ensemble members, when dancing, were shadowed by replicas of themselves. It’s difficult to critique some of these elements, when the director (Lucy Moss of Six, who is mentioned in one of the many cheeky broadway references) clearly broke form to appreciate the show’s humble beginnings.
Where the show really shone, however, was in the finale. First, it displayed the Broadway Sinfonietta — a female, majority BIPOC orchestra that is revolutionizing the future of Broadway — before the ensemble shouts “TikTok! Here we go!” What followed gave me the same chills I used to get watching live theatre. So many of the original videos contributing to the musical popped up on screen — videos of choreographers, orchestrators, and even people pretending to be stage managers for the production. Everyone who participated, even if their contributions were not included, was acknowledged and applauded. The bows were particularly wonderful, with the ensemble getting solos throughout a melody of nearly every song in the show, and the original creators of each song getting to bow along with the actor who sang it.
The message of the show, of course, was that anyone can cook and achieve their dreams, and the production of the Ratatousical musical stood by that. They showed that anyone can compose a song or create choreography or be a part of something. Better yet, by giving all the money from the donate-what-you-can tickets to the Actor’s Fund, the show directly contributed to the dreams of others. Anyone can cook, anyone can perform, and the makers, producers, and even fans of the Ratatousical want to make sure you know that.