Musical Theater Grows on TikTok as Broadway Nears Year-Long Shutdown


via Playbill

Kayla Katounas

With the spread of COVID-19 came the closing of theaters around the world, and the longest shutdown in the history of Broadway. But now, the theater has found a new home on TikTok. In what is known as the “TikTok musical”, creators share an idea for a musical, often an adaptation of a movie or television show, and other creators across the app will pitch in with videos featuring choreography, music, sets, costumes, makeup, and more. The most popular of these TikTok musicals are Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical, based on the 2007 Pixar film, and Bridgerton the musical, based on the popular Netflix show.

Broadway’s shutdown on March 12, 2020 brought with it several concerns about the future of musical theater. In the summer of 2019, Broadway lost nearly 100 million dollars after twelve shows closed in a matter of weeks. After it seemed like it couldn’t get worse for Broadway investors, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, effectively closing theaters for nearly a year, making it their longest shutdown ever. Since the start of the pandemic, several popular musicals have been closed, including Disney’s Frozen, Beetlejuice, and most recently, Mean Girls.

Because of these shutdowns, many workers in the arts are looking to The Actors Fund, an organization that provides financial aid to anyone who works in entertainment. Enter Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical, the Actors Fund’s latest fundraiser. It began when Emily Jacobsen, a teacher from New York, posted a song she wrote for Remy the rat on TikTok and it quickly grew in popularity, with other creators posting their own original songs and choreography. It was seen mostly as a joke that wouldn’t really become anything, but that is not what happened. The show was rehearsed and performed very quickly. In an interview with the New York Times, Andrew Barth Feldman, who played Alfredo Linguini, said “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.” The show was performed virtually on January 1 and quickly became the most successful fundraiser in the history of The Actors Fund, raising two million dollars.

The cast of Ratatouille featured several names from Broadway and television, including Andrew Barth Feldman (Dear Evan Hansen) as Alfredo Linguini, Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) as Remy, Ashley Park (Emily in Paris, Mean Girls) as Colette, Kevin Chamberlin (Jessie, Seussical) as Gusteau, and André De Shields (Hadestown) as Anton Ego. It was directed by Lucy Moss, who is known for directing and co-writing Six: The Musical, which was meant to open the night of the Broadway shutdown.

After Ratatouille was performed, TikTok was looking for a new musical to focus on, and they found that after 22-year-old songwriter Abigail Barlow posted two songs she had written based on Netflix’s Bridgerton on January 10. The videos gained millions of views in just a few days, with several fans asking for more music, and Barlow delivered, recruiting her writing partner, child piano prodigy and now composer, 19-year-old Emily Bear. “When I binged Bridgerton, it was just immediate to me that it belonged on the stage,” said Abigail Barlow in an interview with Playbill. Their most popular song is called “Burn For You”, sung by the two lead characters in the show, Daphne and Simon. The pair have written several songs for various members of the show’s large cast of characters and now plan to release a full concept album.

To keep the fans engaged and involved in their writing process, Barlow and Bear have taken to live streaming their writing process daily on Instagram and TikTok. This allows fans to get first looks at new songs and even suggest lyrics in real-time. Some of their most popular songs, including “Burn for You”, “Oceans Away”, and “Balancing the Scales” are now available to listen to in full on their website.

Overall, TikTok has done so much good for the musical theater community. It has helped to define a whole new format for performance that accommodates for the pandemic and helped make theater more widespread. Whenever theaters open again, they will be able to open with a whole new group of fans and lots of promising new talent waiting in the wings.