April 19, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Wayne Brady is serious about TikTok’s ‘Ratatouille’ musical

Back in August, a TikTok user posted a catchy, cartoonish song about Remy, the lead character of the 2007 movie “Ratatouille.” Another user reposted that video, this time with lavish orchestrations. Other users started creating original songs inspired by the Pixar hit, which have since collectively garnered more than 200 million views on TikTok and become a full-length musical, with Broadway directors, producers and actors involved in a stream, doubling as a benefit for the Actors Fund, that premieres Friday at 4 p.m. Pacific and will be available for 72 hours.

It’s a first for Wayne Brady, who has led productions of “Kinky Boots,” “Merrily We Roll Along” and “Hamilton.” The actor and “Let’s Make a Deal” host plays Remy’s father, Django, and performs a memorable song written by Australian songwriter Gabbi Bolt.

“I sent her a message and said, ‘I really hope that I do your song justice,’ because it’s her song,” he said. “I’m taking it just as seriously as I do when I’m on stage doing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work or that of any other established composer.”

From his home in Los Angeles, the 48-year-old Emmy winner spoke with The Times about doing his own makeup for the unique role, the lasting merits of virtual theater and TikTok’s role in getting CBS’ greenlight on his upcoming family comedy series.

When did you first hear about the “Ratatouille” project?

I’m on TikTok sometimes, and my daughter, she’s on it as much as any 17-year-old will be. She showed me the very first video, which I thought was great, but people are coming up with things online all the time. But then it started picking up steam. I saw another video with Marisha Wallace, who was singing the same song and then adding to it, and that’s when I was like, that’s interesting.

I can’t wait to see how this pans out and if it gives birth to more things like this happening. To go from it being one person’s idea on TikTok, to all these creators hopping on that idea, to artists seeing the creator’s work and going “Yes, and,” and turning it into something actual, with a director and an orchestra and Broadway stars — it’s like the ultimate improv exercise.

Brady plays the 2007 Pixar movie’s Django, left, originally voiced by Brian Dennehy.

(Pixar)

So I was not so surprised when my agent called me and said, “They’re doing a musical, and they want you to be part of it.” It’s crazy, but it’s crazy enough that it’ll work.

Any hesitation about being part of a musical birthed on social media?

One thing I’m learning is that social media has become a marketplace for creatives. For every bad video of a bad impersonator who thinks they’re really funny, there’s a talented person just trying to be seen and find a way in. If social media had been active when I was coming up, I would like to think that I would have used it.

Gabbi, who wrote that song, is legitimately a good composer and lyricist. I really hope that when she sees it, she’s proud, and that the people that love “Ratatouille” on TikTok love the show. I’m so happy these people are getting their moment. This musical is going to show the world that there are some amazing writers and composers out there, and I hope that they all blow up and get a chance to produce their own musicals. And I hope that they’ll hire me for them. It’s a new era of theater, and I’m here for it. I’m here for it all day.

How do you find the process of being part of a virtual theater production?

It was great. I was particularly proud of my makeup. When I worked at the Universal Studios theme park, doing “Beetlejuice’s Rock ‘n’ Roll [Graveyard Revue],” I had to come up with my own look for the Wolf Man and Dracula. And my “Kinky Boots” makeup artist, La Sonya Gunter, let me do a little bit of my own makeup. I’m also really proud of my ears. It was fun knowing that every other performer was in their home too, dressing up and finding things around the house to do this.

Doing things like this distills performing down to what you got into it for, and that’s because you love to play. You’re sitting in your living room in gray sweats with your face painted as a rat. That is the coolest thing, especially when, in your everyday life, it’s all stakes: A company has invested millions of dollars in this TV show you’re on, or you’re in front of hundreds of people on Broadway, you don’t want to screw up or go too long and cost the company money. Here, it still has to be right, but it’s a chance to play. It was fun, and your work should be fun if you’re in show business.

Ten months into the pandemic, and despite the rise in virtual productions, there are still naysayers who don’t consider this “theater.” What would you say to that?

I think they’re absolutely right, to a degree. It isn’t theater the way that we knew it before March; there’s no audience, no proscenium, no actors onstage. That theater, by necessity, does not exist right now.

Being in a pandemic, and yet still able to produce a piece of theater that exists virtually, is amazing. I’ve broadened my definition of “theater” to include pieces like this, because the reality is, we’re going to be doing pieces like this for a while, until it’s safe to go back onstage and for people to gather. Stop being such a traditionalist and appreciate the fact that we can even do this. At least we have people trying to create art in the hell we’re in right now.

Especially when so many of these virtual efforts are fundraisers.

Yes. It may be silly, but it’s for a very real cause. This is my fourth or fifth time this year doing something connected with the Actors Fund, and I wish I did more. I’m lucky that I now make an amazingly blessed living doing multiple shows on TV. Most of my close friends are friends I made when I was coming up. They are super talented, but they’re waiting right now, receiving unemployment and hoping to receive their stimulus.

I’m really happy and honored to be able to give back to the craft that has been good to me, to directly help my brothers and sisters who can’t be on stage right now and do the thing they’ve trained their entire lives for. People working in tickets, merchandise, stage managers, makeup artists, costumers, directors, choreographers — every single person that goes into making a beautiful piece of art, not just on Broadway, but in every regional theater across the country.

How has resuming your TV work been going so far?

It’s been great that we’ve found a way to make it work. On “Let’s Make a Deal,” we test every other day and we’re all distanced from each other, even backstage. And on every set that I’ve been on — from my new show on Fox called “Game of Talents” to a couple other shows that I guest-starred — everyone has really tried to toe the line and make sure that we’re safe.

You also just announced a CBS comedy based on your life. What can you share about that upcoming show?

We are writing it right now, as we speak. It’s a heightened version of my life in Hollywood with my blended family, kind of like a “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” My ex-wife Mandie [Taketa] is my best friend, business partner and co-parent, and her boyfriend is now a dear friend of mine. And then with my daughter Maile, we’re this unit — we call it the “core four” — that’s somewhat unorthodox but is so full of love.

Then you add the stuff we do in show business, which everyone thinks is so glamorous. But I love to show the parts that make me laugh every single day, the situations that some people make out to be World War III. On “Let’s Make a Deal,” we talk about, “I don’t know if we can let that contestant on air because that guy is dressed as Superman and his bulge is too prominent.”

Mandie, Maile and I will all play versions of ourselves. I have to shout out to TikTok because we’ve been shopping this project for about eight years, and though we’ve gotten lots of interest, it wasn’t until we started posting TikToks of us singing and dancing and doing comedy together that all these studios called and a bunch of showrunners reached out. TikTok really became the partner to me that I never knew I needed.

‘Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical’

Where: TodayTix
When: 4 p.m. PT Friday (available until Monday)
Rating: suitable for all ages