Is Broadway’s Next Hit Musical Born on TikTok?

Accessibility in the music theater world is a much discussed topic. Tickets to Broadway shows cost exorbitant fees (that is, for the right seats), and those who can’t afford them are out of luck, not to mention fans who don’t live near New York City.

Meanwhile, social media has revolutionized the way theater is consumed in more ways than one. At the height of the pandemic in 2020, theater buffs banded together to create Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical. Daniel Mertzlufft shared a video of seeing a stage production of the musical take place, with TikToker Emily Jacobsen’s “Ode to Remy” as the soundtrack.

The idea went viral and TikTokers shared several ideas for the show. Later it became a real show with major Broadway actors doing a benefit show for unemployed actors during the pandemic. Shortly after this musical’s fad subsided, The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical appeared on the For You page of the app. Since then, it has won a Grammy Award for Best Music Theater Album, making it the first album to originate on TikTok to win the top prize for music.

Now, TikTok has just announced a new musical venture: it has commissioned Merzlufft’s latest creation, For You, Paige, which will be staged in New York City and also available to livestream. The show is reportedly about two friends, Landon and Paige, the first of which is a geek who makes a song with his best friend based on her favorite book series. At the moment there is only one performance scheduled for April 14th and it will be recorded on the official @TikTok account for livestreaming. Not many details have been released about future performances.

With multiple reckonings in the theater — from COVID-related pauses to broader discussions of equality, diversity and inclusion — it’s easy to see why these works are garnering praise. They are easily accessible online for anyone who has a smartphone, and they are generally popular with users on the internet. Established Broadway producers have long opposed streaming for a variety of reasons, but mostly because they believed it would hurt ticket sales and cannibalize live productions. It’s more common to see a professionally captured stream of a play or musical become available after the show has ended.

A show that recently hit the Broadway stage, Lynn Nottage’s Clyde’s, experimented with live streaming, in part to increase accessibility, but also to allay concerns about COVID-19.

However, the success of Broadway shows is based on their longevity potential, and social media’s ability to power long-lasting hits in the theater is still unclear. The last time a show made its way to Broadway after finding a cult following online, the fervor quickly melted. Be More Chill, a musical about a teenager who becomes popular after ingesting a supercomputer chip, originally ran at a New Jersey regional theater in 2015 and closed after four weeks. After the original cast recording was released online, streams for the album skyrocketed and the show took on a new lease of life. It found a new lease of life outside of Broadway in 2018, eventually being transferred to Broadway.

But the show didn’t even last a year there. According to the Hollywood Reporter, “reviews have been mixed, and despite the teen superfans voicing their appreciation at each performance, the $9 million production in its first two months has reached much of the core audience.”

That could serve as a cautionary tale for today’s social media creators with Broadway aspirations. TikTok is a new frontier for investors and producers to find new works — and for creators to create and promote them — but it remains to be seen whether it can translate into a viable new model for live theater.

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