I used to hate rats. The mix of the tails, the teeth, the images of pestilence just sent my skin crawling and my brain saying “no sir.” So you can imagine how I might have felt when my dad came home from the Berkeley Vivarium carrying two pet rats. Of course, as time has worn on I have grown to love little Mia and Louise. So what did my dad do to make me feel better about the rats? He had us all watch the classic Pixar film Ratatouille.
In case you’ve been eating, sleeping, and working under a rock for the past 13 years, Ratatouille is a Pixar film about a rat named Remy (not “Ratatouille” as many falsely believe) who embarks on a journey in Paris in hopes of becoming a great chef. Along the way, Remy breaks the glass manhole cover wherever he walks and teaches humans as well as his fellow rats about acceptance and the art of cooking. It is my personal favorite Pixar movie.
Ratatouille’s transformation from animated movie to virtual musical starring incredibly famous Broadway actors began last October. Emily Jacobsen, a 26-year-old schoolteacher living in New York, filmed a TikTok of herself singing a song about Remy in a squeaky high pitched voice. The video is decidedly weird, and a little creepy, but somehow caught on like COVID-19 in a room full of Republican senators. Other TikTokers joined in and shared their own original songs. Theater kids around the world, creatively stifled since the beginning of the pandemic, crawled out of their rooms where they’d been watching Hamilton on Disney Plus for the 50th time in a row and jumped at the chance to contribute to Ratatouille the TikTok Musical. This collective imaginary production grew organically without any sort of conscious coordination and blossomed into something real, something tangible.
As the buzz about this show got louder, many real-life Broadway folks decided they wanted to play too. Composer Joe Iconis, of the recent smash hit Be More Chill, wrote an original song from Remy’s perspective, and Broadway star Kevin Chamberlain wrote one for Gusteau, renowned chef and Remy’s inspiration. As professionals mixed with the TikTok theater kids, an actual Ratatouille musical began to show its little whiskers. In early December it was announced that a real show was going to be produced by Seaview Productions. Less than a month from the announcement, on January 1, a filmed concert version of Ratatouille the TikTok Musical was broadcast online, raising two million dollars to benefit The Actors Fund. It was an unconventional performance; actors filmed from their own homes – videos of them acting, singing, and dancing were stitched together to create the full show.
Before getting into my thoughts on the show itself, I want to say how impressed I was with the production and creativity behind the show. Theater is not easy to pull off online, perhaps even harder when your show came entirely from a social media app. None of the actors were actually in the same room, yet it felt like a semi-regular musical. I used to regularly attend theater performances, perhaps five or six times a year, and while Ratatouille perhaps didn’t completely fill that void, it was something.
The cast was probably the most impressive part, and made the whole. First of all, Titus Burgess of Unbreakable Kimmy Shmidt absolutely kills as Remy. Often narrating the scenes between musical numbers, he manages to make it feel less like lazy plot filling and more like something truly important to the show. He captures Remy’s sweetness and passion perfectly, and keeps the show interesting throughout. Playing Alfredo Linguini, Andrew Barth Feldman of Dear Evan Hansen is just as spectacular. His nervous mannerisms and voice like the soaring heavens make the character truly shine – not to mention his uncanny resemblance to the character. But none in the cast come close to the joyous amazement that is Kevin Chamberlain as Gusteau. Watching him sing the opening song Anyone Can Cook released dopamine in such copious amounts in my brain that I wondered if I should ever feel such glory again. The show is worth watching just for his performance. You will not be disappointed.
However, there were a few aspects of the show I wasn’t entirely enthralled with. The biggest offender was the ensemble, who frankly disturbed me more than anything. The choreography was unsettlingly reminiscent of Cats, the musical, (purposely, I think) which was an unnecessary distraction. I would have scrapped all the dancers and just had Kevin Chamberlain do some of his fancy little kicks in a corner of the screen. Additionally, the opening 15 minutes of the show feel a little too loose and all over the place, though it soon finds its rhythm. And while I love the orchestra, they clearly have no basic understanding of epidemiology or COVID-19 safety; they seemed to think just because their mouths were covered by instruments they couldn’t spread the virus. They’re not called wind instruments for nothing, you’re spreading particles all over the place.
Regardless of these small criticisms, Ratatouille is certainly a show worth watching for any and all, particularly those like me who have suffered through the absence of theater during the pandemic. Above all, the musical shows the power of dedicated and passionate artists. Maybe make a TikTok of your own, or write that song you’ve been thinking about. Because while Ratatouille the Pixar movie asserts that anyone can cook, Ratatouille the TikTok Musical teaches that anybody can write a great musical.