Remember Grocery Store: A New Musical? It began with musical theatre songwriter Daniel Mertzlufft posting a TikTok video of a musical theatre arrangement of Louisa Melcher's "New York Summer," performing it as a man breaking up with his S.O. in the aisles of a grocery store. Other creators duetted with the video until a whole mini 30-second musical existed, with characters ranging from that significant other to a can of soup on the shelf.
Then along came Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical, which began similarly, but went on to a more fleshed-out digital presentation—presented by Seaview Productions and directed by Six's Lucy Moss—as an online fundraiser for The Actors Fund. With full support from Disney, the musical presentation earned over $2 million for the organization in the midst of the pandemic.
TikTok has now taken the phenomenon a step further. Recognizing its role in the collaborative nature of musical theatre creation, the entertainment platform has commissioned its first official TikTok musical. Created by Mertzlufft and inspired by the community of TikTok creators, For You, Paige, a fully-realized one-act musical, will stream live on the app April 14 at 7 PM ET.
The story of For You, Paige (with a book co-written by Mertzlufft and his frequent collaborator Kate Leonard) centers on teen friends Landon and Paige, whose friendship is tested when a musical theatre song Landon writes—based on Paige's idea that her favorite dystopian YA novel Utopia would be a great musical—goes viral, but only Landon is approached by a producer to write the whole musical.
The 45-minute one-act features eight full songs: three by Mertzlufft and Leonard, and others by songwriters Julia Riew, Katherine Lynn-Rose, RJ Christian, Blake Rouse, Morgan Reilly, Alex Engelberg, and the team of David Gosz and Leo Fotos (who actually posted their own song to TikTok as the musical was being developed and the creative team bought it and included it). Macy Schmidt, founder of The Broadway Sinfonietta, is on board for orchestrations, as well as serving as co-executive producer and executive music producer.
For You, Paige will be performed live from a (secret) theatre venue in New York City, and streamed live to viewers @TikTok. The production will be fully staged, choreographed, and costumed, and performed only once for the live stream. Because it is being performed specifically for TikTok engagement, the production is being staged to look best on vertical cellphone screen. The stream will be hosted by television's Andy Cohen and finish up with an interactive backstage Q&A with the cast and creative culled from the stream's live comments.
Because the musical was commissioned by TikTok, Mertzlufft kept the community involved with the process all along the way, posting schedule and casting announcements on his channel, as well as song and script previews. There's even a video revealing the plot synopsis in which he plays all the parts that is far more entertaining than a press release burb. "Lifting the curtain is a big part of the project," says Mertzlufft." Leaning into the organic collaboration that happened with the first few TikTok musicals, the creators of did a lot of their development discussions in TikTok Lives.
Creators also turned to TikTok for casting, bringing in popular content creator Sri Ramesh to star alongside Broadway's Roman Banks in the roles of Paige and Landon, respectively. Other names TikTokkers may recognize from scrolling are James Henry (Stop, you've been scrolling way too long.) and JJ Niemann (The Book of Mormon), both popular content creators on the platform.
Krystina Alabado (Mean Girls, American Psycho) appears as Kaia, the main character in Utopia, the musical-within-the-musical. One of Leonard's favorite moments in the show is number in which Landon trying to figure out Kaia's song, so the audience sees the character come to life in his imagination, acting out different ideas and trying different sounds. "Krystina is just so funny; it's a joy to watch," she says. "I wrote two to eight bars of a Sondheim version, and a weird sexy jazz version, and like a bad Alan Menken "I want" song version, so you get little bits until we land in the song proper that's the actual good one that goes viral," explains Mertzlufft.
Making the show feel appropriate to the medium was also important to the creators. "The show moves at a pretty fast clip," says Leonard. "We're adapting to a format where people are accustomed to swiping through 15-second or one-minute videos. There are a few moments where we slow down to more of a musical theatre pace, but right off the bat, we're in it and the action comes along fast enough that it feels a little like swiping through TikToks."
"Yeah, we have one ballad," says Mertzlufft. "Everything else is uptempo or otherwise people will swipe!"
Mertzlufft and Leonard also share that the musical is full of TikTok references, both in dialogue and in the choreography, referencing popular TikTok dances.
Another way that For You, Paige really is a TikTok musical is in the way that it will exist...as TikTok live, the production can only be viewed during its live stream on the @TikTok handle. If you don't see it, then you missed it.
The production is directed by Maria Goulamhoussen and Emily Maltby, with choreography by Maltby and Katie Spelman. Patrick Sulken serves a music director. The show is co-executive produced by Joshua Asen, Danielle Dioguardi, and Jessica Norton of Media Monks.