The recipe is a bit off for Ratatouille: The Tik Tok Musical, but the crowd-sourced show from Tik Tok should still be commended for inspiring a new generation of theatre artists.
Joshua Chong, Senior Arts & Culture Editor
Starring: Titus Burgess, Andrew Barth Feldman, Ashley Park
Director: Lucy Moss
Music and Lyrics: Various artists from Tik Tok
Book: Michael Breslin and Patrick Foley, based on the movie of the same name by Brad Bird
Run Time: 1 hour
Information: Ratatouille: The Tik Tok Musical streamed on TodayTix from January 1 – January 4, 2021. It had an encore streaming on Tik Tok on January 10, 2021.
Anyone can cook. At least that’s the message presented, albeit overbeaten, in Ratatouille: The Tik Tok Musical. But can anyone write a musical? Based on what was served up at the semi-staged virtual concert of Ratatouille, a crowd-sourced musical created by Tik Tok users during the pandemic, the answer is as clear as consommé: yes.
The bigger question, however, is this: can anyone whip up a good musical? Unfortunately, no. Despite a valiant effort from a group of amateur theatre creators on Tik Tok – mostly comprised of high school and university students – alongside Broadway stars such as André De Shields and Mary Testa, Ratatouille fails to rise up to its potential.
Even for a show about a rat named Remy (Titus Burgess), a curious Parisian rodent with a sharp sense of smell and a knack for cooking, the musical’s recipe has far too much cheese. Creators Michael Breslin and Patrick Foley pack so many cringeworthy theatre references into the 60 minute show (“jellicle songs for jellicle rats,” anyone?) that it feels more like a musical parody than a show with its sights set on Broadway.
And despite its hour-long run time, Ratatouille could not feel more overstuffed. Watching the show is like eating an greasy cheeseburger: stuffed sick, yet completely unsatisfied. It takes nearly twenty long minutes for Remy to finally escape the sewers of Paris and stumble upon Gusteau’s, owned by the late August Gusteau (Kevin Chamberlin), a famous cook who inspires Remy to cook and also appears as a figment of his imagination.
The first third of the show is filled with dry exposition, where Remy explains through a series of monotonous monologues how he ended up at Gusteau’s after a cooking accident in a rural French cottage. It’s only when Remy finally does reach Gusteau’s and meets Linguini (Andrew Barth Feldman) – a hopeless and hapless cook who, thanks to Remy’s aid, becomes a star chef – that the writers realize they have 30 minutes left to cram in 80 minutes worth of material from the film.
The result is one dimensional characters and more monologues to fill in the missing scenes – once again breaking the cardinal rule of playwriting: show, don’t tell. Mary Testa is devilishly evil as the brash yet diminutive Chef Skinner, the ruthless new owner of the restaurant following Gusteau’s death. But her character is far underused and underdeveloped – though she does have a short fun tune “I Knew I Smelled a Rat”.
Same goes for Ashley Park’s Colette, the tough talking chef who mentors Linguini and eventually becomes his love interest. Instead of seeing Colette and Linguini’s relationship slowly simmer from ice cold to a gentle boil, the characters’ relationship arcs are dumped from the freezer to the deep fryer. One moment, Colette is screaming at Linguini for his inept cooking skills; the next moment, Remy turns to the camera and tells the audience (through another monologue) that the pair are now a couple.
It’s partly understandable why Breslin and Foley’s script fails to find its rhythm: it was put together in the span of a few weeks and was merely meant to string together the songs from Tik Tok into a semi-coherent plot. But if this musical really has its sights on Broadway, it needs to be sent back to the kitchen first. Expand the show into two acts by delving deeper into each character, remove those gags, and cut those damn monologues.
At the January 1 streaming of the benefit concert for The Actors Fund, co-produced by TodayTix and Tik Tok, the songs worked far better than the script. The ten songs, created by a group of young Tik Tokers, are not musically groundbreaking by any standard, but are in the same vein as the Alan Menkan pop standards that have become synonymous with Disney’s Broadway musicals. Particularly memorable are Remy’s ‘I want’ song “Remember My Name” and the jazzy “Kitchen Tango” between Linguini and Colette. If Ratatouille were to make the jump to Broadway, its hummable earworms would fit right in with the likes from Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, or Beauty and the Beast. The lyrics, however, would benefit from a few edits, especially the lines that are simply headscratchers (“Remy the ratatouille / the rat of all my dreams”).
Lucy Moss’s production was well-shot and well-edited for the virtual medium – even complete with some holographic visual effects to accompany all the rat-style choreography. But she gives little clues as to how this ambitious show could ever be translated to a real stage. Will the rats be puppets, or humans dressed as rats? If you choose the latter, how do you stage scenes involving both humans and rats without it looking like a show about monster rats invading the kitchens of Paris?
These are questions that still need to be answered if the show wants to continue on it’s road to Broadway. Some other questions, however, were immediately answered on the night of the concert – specifically those related to casting. If Ratatouille is to have a life after this, Feldman needs to continue being a part of it. His Linguini is spot on – from the way his eyes nervously dart around the room to the teetering manner he trots around the kitchen. Park and Testa are equally as memorable in their small roles of Colette and Chef Skinner, respectively.
Broadway legend De Shields is elegant as the no-nonsense food critic Anton Ego, whose character is clumsily tacked on to the end of the musical. As the main character Remy, however, Titus Burgess is miscast. He plays Remy as a sassy, know-it-all rat, without the curiosity and youthful naivete that his character demands. And though it’s understandable because he has the largest role and only had a few days to prepare for the streaming, Burgess appeared to be the only actor who was reading from a script beside the camera.
If all this criticism seems a bit harsh for a crowd-sourced show compiled within a few weeks during a raging pandemic, it’s because it probably is. But I give all this feedback because – despite all its flaws – I still believe this show has potential. With some adjustments, it could find much critical success among general audiences and critics.
And that’s all the show really needs to guarantee a successful Broadway transfer. There’s absolutely no doubt it will be a commercial success if it ends up being picked up by Disney; the streaming event grossed over $1.5 million in donations alone – about the same amount of money that a successful Broadway musical would rake in with full ticket prices over an eight-show week.
If it does make it to Broadway, Ratatouille will make history as the first commercial musical created from crowd-sourced social media posts. But even if this is the last we see of the show, its Tik Tok creators should be commended for this significant project, which inspired a whole new generation of theatre artists to write, create, and share what they love, and ultimately, prove that anyone can create a musical.