Some dreams seem nearly impossible: Like becoming a chef in a top Parisian restaurant when you’re a rodent, or staging a brand-new Broadway musical during an ongoing pandemic when theaters worldwide are dark—or finding a way to combine both and raise more than one million dollars to benefit charity.
But that’s just what happened when the curtain rose on ‘Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical’ in the first weeks of 2021.
Adhering to the adage that “good things come in small packages”—including rats with visions of glory—the show’s origins are pretty humble.
Back in August of 2020, 26-year-old schoolteacher Emily Jacobsen, a devoted Disney fan/theater junkie and avowed ‘Ratatouille’ aficionado learned a themed attraction based on Remy and his crew was scheduled to open at Walt Disney World in Florida in the coming year.
Inspired, Jacobson came up with “a love ballad” to her favorite diminutive hero:
“Remy, the ratatouille
The rat of all my dreams
I praise you, my ratatouille
May the world remember your name.”
Jacobson posted her ditty to TikTok and tagged some friends—one of whom happened to be music whiz Daniel Mertzlufft, who added orchestration, instruments, and vocals to the tune via computer. Instead of an ending, the Disney-worthy finale Mertzlufft created was the spark that set the internet on fire and launched a thousand videos that would eventually become ‘Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical’.
Mertzlufft debuted his video in October. Soon after, other enthusiastic TikTokers began putting up their own contributions to the virtual show. What started as a snowball became an avalanche.
Even Disney was caught up in the momentum. “We love when our fans engage with our stories,” the studio said in a statement reported by The New York Times, “and we look forward to seeing these super fans experience the attraction when it opens at Walt Disney World next year.”
As the viral trajectory of the crowd-sourced musical with 200,000 followers and counting continued to trend, something even more extraordinary happened.
With the wave of its magic wand, Disney gave Seaview Productions the green light to produce a full-fledged musical as a benefit performance in aid of the Actors Fund.
While the organization’s mission has always been to provide performers with a financial safety net, with so many show business professionals sidelined by the COVID-19 crisis, the need is more crucial than ever now.
Mertzlufft, who was tapped for the role of musical director says the whirlwind production was pulled together in less than a month’s time.
“I had my first meeting December 4 with the folks at Seaview,” he told The New York Times. “They gave me a call and said, ‘Hey, we have this crazy idea. Disney has given us the allowance to do a benefit for the Actors Fund of ‘Ratatouille.’ The only catch? They wanted it to debut on New Year’s Day. “I took a deep breath and said, ‘Yeah, that’s possible.’”
Starring Tituss Burgess as Remy, and co-starring Wayne Brady, Adam Lambert, Kevin Chamberlin, Andrew Barth Feldman, Priscilla Lopez, Ashley Parks, André De Shields, Owen Tabaka, and Mary Testa, since its January 1 premiere, ‘Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical’ has raised more than $1 million for the Actors Fund.
The ‘Ratatousical’s’ original 72-hour run was so successful, a second performance was added on January 10. While the show has been a financial boon to performers, its importance has a much broader reach.
“It’s just so important to be supporting artists right now, I think, both in terms of the actual raising money (and in) bringing hope that new work still can be created and that there’s a space for innovation,” the show’s director, Lucy Moss, told CNN. “Maybe, you know, this kind of work wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t all stuck at home.”
If the moral of ‘Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical’ is anything, it’s that we can refuse to take no for an answer. We can choose to embrace the impossible. We can become the force that creates something new. We can choose to see our vision through and give it everything we’ve got because a dream that comes true against all odds is all the sweeter.
As Remy said to Django in the original 2007 film, “Change is nature, Dad—the part that we can influence—and it starts when we decide.”