Acclaimed composer, writer and TikTok creator Daniel Mertzlufft (“Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical”) is back at it with his newest TikTok musical, “For You, Paige.”
In a story inspired by real TikTokers, teenage music nerd Landon collaborates with his best friend Paige on a TikTok song inspired by her favorite book series. Landon’s TikTok goes viral, thrusting him into the spotlight — and leaving Paige behind. When a producer offers Landon the opportunity to adapt the book series into a musical, Landon discovers that the glory of doing it all himself isn’t worth the stress and enlists the help of Paige and the TikTok community to turn the show into a huge success.
The “For You, Paige” musical is the first time an original musical will make its debut through a live online broadcast on TikTok, and it will be one of the most sophisticated productions TikTok has ever supported. “For You, Paige” will be performed live on stage, will be performed live in New York City and streamed globally on TikTok via the @TikTok handle on April 14 at 7:00 p.m. ET / 4:00 p.m. PT.
Daniel serves as executive producer, co-bookwriter, composer, executive music supervisor and music supervisor, leading a team of incredible creators including co-bookwriter Kate Leonard, songwriters Julia Riew, Katherine Lynn-Rose, RJ Christian, Blake Rouse, Morgan Reilly, Alex Engleberg, and Kate Leonard with orchestrations by Macy Schmidt.
“For You, Paige” stars Roman Banks (High School Musical: The Musical: The Series) and Sri Ramesh (EarCandy), Krystina Alabado as Kaia, JJ Niemann as Jarek, along with Aveena Sawyer, Alysia Velez, Fernell Hogan, Cori Jaskier, Max Antonio Gonzalez, Emily Stillings, James Henry Thursday Ferrar and Paul
Schoeffler. Producers also include co-executive producer Macy Schmidt, and Joshua Asen, Danielle Dioguardi, and Jessica Norton of Media Monks.
Check out my interview with Daniel!
How does it feel that Thursday’s the big day?
Daniel: It’s so exciting, but it’s kind of hard to believe, you know? This is something that has been so theoretical for so long, and now I’m in the theater, which is insane. To be like, ‘Oh, this thing is like, actually happening?!’ It’s just so exciting.
What do the days before this big show look like for you?
Daniel: Oh, so crazy! Crazy is the answer. So right now (2 days before the show), everyone is just arriving, which is so cool. I mean, the tech team got in yesterday and built up the whole space. Everything’s all set. The cameras are all ready, the cast is just getting in and getting in their mics. Today is really about taking what we learned last week in the rehearsal studio and putting it in a brand new space, but even more importantly, with actual cameras, because there will be multiple cameras and one of them is onstage with the cast. So, doing that camera blocking is going to be most of our day today, which is a little tedious but very exciting. And I’m looking at monitors right over there as the cast is going on and it’s kind of crazy. It’s very exciting, but very stressful and wild and then tomorrow will be the same thing but faster and then Thursday’s the show.
Daniel: It is but it’s also like, it’s that stress that I live for and I think so many creative people live for. I think writing is oftentimes a very solitary thing. You spend so much time imagining people, performing these things, imagining people reading these lines, imagining instruments playing these things, and to actually be able to do it is- yes, it’s super stressful, but it’s the stress that I’ve been hoping for for so long. I wouldn’t want that stress all the time, but it is exciting.
How long have you all been working in person together?
Daniel: The first time we were in person was last Monday. So it’s a very, very, very fast process. We rehearsed Monday through Saturday, Sunday off and then we have Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday’s the show, so it’s very fast. Our cast is incredibly talented and so experienced, so doing these types of things is not entirely uncommon. I mean, this level of production like with cameras and things certainly are, but it’s quite common in the industry to do what are called 29 hour readings. That’s about six days in terms of rehearsal. And those are not fully staged and memorized, but they’re often also for two and a half hour shows, where ours is about 40 minutes. But yeah, if we didn’t have these incredibly talented people working on it, I don’t think it would happen that fast but with this cast and our directing team who are just absurdly talented, watching all of them work blows my mind. I do not understand how their brains work.
So, what did it take to put this whole thing together?
Daniel: It has been a long process for sure. But, you know, in terms of getting a Broadway show up, which tends to be like, 7-10 years, it was no time at all. So, I worked on “Ratatouille: The TikTok musical,” which was amazing, but it relied on an IP, like the only reason that happened was because things went viral and it was an IP that everyone knows and adores. We wanted to take what was so great about that project, which is the accessibility not only to the audience of being able to view it, but to the creators as well and try to find a sustainable way to do that. So, this is sort of an experiment to see if that is possible. And you know, to have TikTok fund this and not only acknowledge the incredible community that is the musical theatre community on TikTok, but to embrace it in this way is very exciting.
So, once they were down, we came up with “For You Paige,” which is a pun and the title actually came first. I came up with the title and then built a story around that with my co-book writer, Kate Leonard. It was literally just about the pun first which is very TikTok. And then January is when we were like, ‘okay, this is going to happen,’ and I went live for the very first time. I just announced the project and said, ‘Hey, we’re doing this,’ but none of the songs had been written, a book hadn’t been written yet, we just had a very basic outline of the kind of the story we were going to tell. But it’s really been since January 13, which was the one year anniversary of “Ratatouille” airing on TikTok, that we announced this new initiative. So yeah, by the time it airs, it’ll have been a little over four months and one day that the entire thing came into existence, which is very fast. And for instance, one of the songs was not written until Friday, like a week and a half ago… So yeah, I’m just very lucky to be surrounded by our amazing orchestrator, Macy Schmidt, who can work that fast and Kate Leonard, who I wrote that song with. I mean, we turned it around in a couple of hours, because we had to. But I also have this saying that boundaries are freeing. The idea of the boundary being, you have four hours to write a song, right? That’s freeing in that we can do it. It’s stressful but exciting. And that’s also part of what this whole initiative was about, pulling the curtain back and saying, ‘we’re making this up as we go. We’re figuring this out and you all are along for the ride.’ Again, it’s stressful because it’s very raw and very revealing, but exciting.
Aside from the title, what other TikTok type easter eggs did you make sure to incorporate within the TikTok musical?
Daniel: There are so many and there’s only one time where we actually hear TikTok sounds and it’s actually in a transition every other time. It is very inside joke-like, but what we’ve done was take some very popular TikTok sounds and just write them into the dialogue as if they were normal dialogue. So, it was a challenge to make them sound normal, where if you didn’t know that that was a trend, it would just sound like a normal piece of the show. I’ll tell you two of them.
In the opening number, Landon, our lead, along with Paige, his best friend; they’re experiencing their normal day in high school, you know, just trying to get through the day and they go to choir practice where you hear four bars of a sea shanty. Sea shanties were a very big thing on TikTok, like a year ago.
Landon’s family is having a very, very, very awkward dinner and there’s a couple of dead moments at the very end of the scene, and the dad just says, ‘good soup,’ and moves on. So, it’s like these very little TikTok puns. And again, building that into the dialogue and finding ways to make them appropriate, where it’s not like, ‘wow, they just squeezed that one in there.’ It’s where if you know, you know, and if you don’t, then it just seems like part of the show.
So, it kind of caters to both TikTokers and musical lovers?
Daniel: Exactly. But yeah, there’s some deep, deep musical theater jokes in there as well both in the dialogue but also in the homages to different composers and different shows within each song.
What was it like working with all of these other TikTokers to create this really Broadway quality show?
Daniel: I love to say this because this is very, very important to me and everyone else- every single creator who has worked on this was compensated and credited, because I know people have concerns about that and I understand why. I just want to say that very clearly that everyone was compensated, everyone is credited. We were not like trolling through TikTok being like, ‘I’m gonna steal this idea. I’m gonna steal this idea.’ It was really really important to me, as a creator and a writer, that people were credited and compensated and that it wasn’t just a, ‘hey, you’ll get seen by doing this,’ like no, this is very professional in that way.
It was exciting. I have worked with some of these people before, like Blake Rouse and I were able to collaborate on Ratatouille, and some of whom are brand new, like Julia Ryu. I just really loved her content on TikTok. We reached out and she was down to do it. So, it was exciting to collaborate with old and new friends. And, you know, I’m hoping that if there’s ever another one, we can meet even more people and find me even more people from around the world. But yeah, it was really exciting. And there’s some really, really good songs, like, I can’t wait for you to hear some of the songs, which I had the pleasure of arranging, but also to hear the cast perform them. There’s one song specifically where Krystina Alabado is playing this character named Kaia, who’s in the story within the story and she sings a song called “Beyond The Dome” that is a ridiculously hard song. And I knew she’d sound great on it, but the first time I heard it, I lost it and I still haven’t recovered. She’s just so talented and Roman sings a song that I wrote with Kate called “Playing In My Key” which is absurdly difficult and he just kills it every time and Sri sings a song called, ”Out Of My Mouth” by Morgan Reilly, that is just so heart wrenching and beautifully written and it’s just a pleasure to be in the room with all these people and seeing the song come to life.
Is there anything else that you would like to add or to say about the TikTok musical before its debut?
Daniel: Yeah, we’re so excited to share it with everyone and we are really excited to partner with the Broadway Sinfonietta, who recorded all of the instruments. So, when you hear these beautiful tracks with trumpets and horns and woodwinds and harp and all of that, that’s the Broadway Sinfonietta, which is an all female and mostly BIPOC orchestra. So, partnering with them and Macy Schmidt, who did the orchestrations as well as one of the co-EPs on this project, it’s just always a joy to hear that music come to life.
And just be sure to tune in on Thursday 7pm Eastern time. Part of this whole initiative was making it accessible and if you have a phone and TikTok, the app is free to watch, so I hope people enjoy it and I can’t wait to share the show with the world.
Full creative team credits include Daniel Mertzlufft, Executive Producer, Songwriter, Co-Bookwriter, Executive Music Producer, Music Supervisor, Arranger; Macy Schmidt, Co-Executive Producer, Orchestrator, Executive Music Producer; Kate Leonard, Co-Bookwriter, Songwriter, Lyricist; Maria Goulamhoussen, Co-Director; Emily Maltby, Co-Director, Co-Choreographer; Katie Spelman, Associate Director/Co-Choreographer; Joshua Asen, Executive Producer, Media.Monks; Danielle Dioguardi, Sr. Producer, Media.Monks; Jessica Norton, Executive Producer, Media.Monks; Jeffrey Limon, Creative Director, Media.Monks; Amy Dwyer, Design Director, Media.Monks