What does it take to bring a TikTok musical to life?

Last week, the first TikTok-commissioned musical opened in New York. The musical was performed live, but also streamed live on TikTok itself. The musical was truly for and by TikTok: the work of many TikTok creators and artists (plus Andy Cohen!), coming together to bring the project to life online and IRL.

But that’s not the musical‘s only selling point.

For you Paige, a cheeky nod to the crown jewel of the FYP app, was directed by Daniel Mertzlufft. Taking us behind the scenes, he spoke to Mashable on the day of the show, a busy day indeed, and just three months and a day after TikTok first ordered the musical. The actors, musicians, directors and screenwriters put together the show in a very short time, propelled by their objectives: to be accessible, to be original, to be appreciated by TikTokers as well as hesitant people on social networks.

“We decided to really look into the humor of TikTok,” says Mertzlufft. “Why don’t we try to tell a story about my experience and other people’s similar experiences on TikTok?”

The creator of TikTok was the creative brains behind Ratatouille: the TikTok musicalso Mertzlufft is no stranger to the crossover music genre that TikTokers can’t seem to get enough of. Ratatouille, however, is a film well known to audiences around the world. With For you Paige, Mertzlufft and his team were starting from scratch. What follows is “a love letter to the TikTok community.”

What is the TikTok musical actually about?

The story of For you Paige is based on the power of TikTok creators working together. In the production, the main character writes a musical for her friend Paige. He put the song on TikTok, which quickly went viral, and was asked to put on the show in real life. But that’s only possible with the “power of friendship, Paige, collaborators,” says Mertzlufft.

Subtle nods to TikTok in the musical, besides the title itself, included references to #BookTok (character Paige is obsessed with a series of books for young adults who frequents the popular TikTok hashtag), but also references to certain jokes, viral sounds, or trends that only real TikTokers would recognize.

“We integrated a bunch of hidden TikTok references.”

“Something fun that we decided to do is to integrate a bunch of TikTok references, but also to be appreciated by people who do not necessarily use TikTok all the time. We integrated a bunch of TikTok references hidden,” says Mertzlufft. “If you missed this trend, great. But if you saw it, you’ll know what we’re talking about.”

It won’t surprise anyone that TikTok means a lot to Mertzlufft. When the pandemic hit, the app became the focus of his creative energy. Now, he says, it has changed his whole career.

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“TikTok means a lot to me. Maybe that’s a weird thing to say about an entertainment platform,” he laughs. “I’m so grateful. And it wasn’t just the app, it was the community that embraced the videos I posted.”

Beyond the narrative (“who is SO TikTok”), the accessibility of the musical was crucial – something exciting not just for audiences, but for the creatives behind the project.

“One of the coolest things was accessibility. You didn’t give up being in London and New York. You could just have a phone,” Mertzlufft says. “You can watch it for free. You don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars to see this show.”

Specially made For you Paige

The musical was shot on an iPhone, vertically of course, for live viewers on TikTok to enjoy. The host was none other than Cohen, a veteran radio and television presenter with whom Mertzlufft said he was delighted to work. Although Cohen isn’t in the musical himself, he conducted cast interviews, chatted with the creative team, and walked the cast ahead of the big performance.

The musical was a truly collaborative experience, with each creator being credited and compensated. The music was conducted by the Broadway Sinfonietta, a female-led group of musicians and the BIPOC founded by orchestrator and music director Macy Schmidt. Schmidt was also the co-producer of FYP.

“We haven’t lost sight of the fact that the number of people who watch a live musical theater show on TikTok can sometimes be the number of people who would see a Broadway show with years of sold-out venues live,” Schmidt said in a statement to TikTok. “It’s reaching a much wider audience than ever before with live theater, but also totally exploding the access of who can contribute to this kind of work and that really excites me.”

“We haven’t lost sight of the fact that the number of people who watch a live musical theater show on TikTok can sometimes be the number of people who would see a Broadway show with years of the show sold out.”

While the traditional route and access to the theater and Broadway isn’t quite moving yet, Mertzlufft and his fellow TikTokers are helping to flip it slightly.

“Is this the ideal way to create theatre? Who knows. But it was exciting to try something new,” he says. “Musical theater is an intimate art form. It’s inherently very human. But in our world today, so is our phone.”

About Anita Croft

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