While some of us are spending the pandemic baking bread, binging Netflix, and staring into the void afraid and half-hopeful that this will now be life as we know it, folks across the world are jumping online to make art, and specifically, musicals. The rapid turnaround of these musicals and, more importantly, their immense popularity, is leading folks in the theatre community to wonder if virtual development is the future of musical theatre making.
The most prominent musical flavoring much of the discussion is Ratatouille The Musical, the world’s first musical “created entirely over TikTok.” Based on the 2007 Disney animation about a Parisian rat who loves to cook, the musical had a very short gestation period. It began life in October 2020, when a TikTok user Emily Jacobsen posted a love ballad for Remy the Rat that went viral. In December 2020 Seaview Productions (who got a shoutout in the December newsletter for their promising new partnership with Sony Productions) negotiated with Disney to put on a virtual production of Ratatouille the Musical as a benefit for the Actors Fund.
Ratatouille the Musical aired on January 1st, 2021, and was only available to stream for 3 days, followed by a one-off encore screening a week later. The cast featured the talents of Wayne Brady, Tituss Burgess, Kevin Chamberlin, André de Shields, Andrew Barth Feldman, Adam Lambert, Priscilla Lopez, Ashley Park, and Mary Testa, under the direction of Six writer and director Lucy Moss. The music was recorded by the recently formed The Broadway Sinfonietta, an all-female identifying, majority women of color orchestral collective. The event was viewed by over 200,000 people, and raised $2million, the most successful fundraiser in Actors Fund history.
While yet to be performed on a physical stage, Ratatouille the Musical already has a huge global following, was put together in a month, and for a budget of $200,000. When you think of the years, and millions of dollars, it normally takes to mount a Broadway show, it’s no wonder theatre folks are excited.
Director Lucy Moss has stated “I hope it opens the doors and/or eyes of producers and the gatekeepers to democratize theater even further, and to show them that something of real merit can be created not in the “traditional” way.” Writing for Forbes, Lee Seymour believes virtual productions could help bolster Broadway’s return — “crowdsourced projects could provide a solution, or at least an augmentation, especially to cultivate younger fans.”
A new in-the-works musical starting to generate some heat is Bridgerton the Musical, based on the recently released original Netflix series, Bridgerton. Composed by Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear, early songs have gone viral, with “Burn For You” reaching over 4.5 million views. The hashtag #BridgertonTheMusical has attracted over 2.5million views. Receiving some attention from Netflix itself, Barlow has claimed “…the gatekeepers that be are kind of no longer in power. The people have the power, and that’s an exciting thing.”
Another new created-virtually musical, or series of musicals, garnering attention is Averno. Created by 21-year-old Morgan Smith, Averno is “is a transmedia universe — think the Marvel universe, but with musicals (and comics and novels and more) about witches.” Through collaboration with a diverse group of young artists, Averno has created “13 musicals, 4 novels, a TV Show, a podcast, a concept album, a webcomic musical, virtual reality, and more.” The universe exists across various websites and social media platforms including TikTok, Instagram, Spotify, and YouTube. Broadway Records, one of theatre’s leading record labels, recently released three Averno musicals as concept albums — “Over and Out,” “Willow,” and “Bittersummer.”
What do you think? Will Ratatouille be served up on Broadway? Could Bridgerton The Musical sit alongside Bridgerton on Netflix? Will the Averno universe come to rival that of Marvel?