TikTok has become a hub for musical theater content and creatives, hosting a community that loves to celebrate and join together to create show-stopping, Grammy-award winning productions. Inspired by this thriving fanbase comes For You, Paige, a new musical commissioned by TikTok and airing LIVE on the platform on Thursday, April 14th at 7pm ET/4pm PT. Ahead of the upcoming curtain call, we sat down with some of the creative forces behind the project, including 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), Sri Ramesh (Lead Actress - Paige), and Roman Banks (Lead Actor - Landon) to talk about their experience and excitement for this project, the musical theater community on TikTok, and what it takes to bring a TikTok musical to life. Live from a theater in New York City and falling under TikTok's #ProjectBroadway, be sure to tune in for For You, Paige on Thursday, April 14th at 7pm ET/4pm PT only @TikTok.
How does it feel to be a part of the first live TikTok musical?
Sri: It feels so cool to be a part of the first live TikTok Broadway musical. I mean, never in a million years did I think that I would get to do this, so it's very surreal.
What was the inspiration behind For You, Paige?
Daniel: No entertainment platform has ever fully embraced meta humor as much as the TikTok community has, so when we were brainstorming plots, I knew that we needed to live in that world. I thought of people like Blake Rouse, who wrote a song for this show, who as an actual high schooler went super viral for his songs for Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical, among countless others. This even has elements of my own experience on TikTok. My life changed after a single video, and that is not an exaggeration. So I was excited to take bits of mine and so many others' stories, and create a love letter to the entire TikTok community. I also love a good pun, so once I had the idea of the title, I sort of built the story from there.
Why did you want to bring this musical to life on TikTok?
Kate: There's a fun meta element to this musical because it's a TikTok musical about TikTok musicals. It's exciting to see what TikTok looks like on the outside through a story being told on the inside of the platform.
Daniel: Writing this show knowing it was going directly to TikTok was both a challenge and an exciting opportunity. This isn't a show that was adapted from the stage to TikTok,or from a novel (like Utopia in For You, Paige), but because of that it meant we were able to custom write the show for the community, which opens up a whole language of humor and references that would not read in other mediums. Performing an original show live in a way that's never been done, and knowing it has the potential to be seen by over a BILLION people was enough to convince me to go on this crazy journey!
What's different about writing a show for TikTok LIVE vs. a regular stage production?
Macy: From a music standpoint, with a regular stage show there is not as much flexibility of what you can do with live music versus what you can do with recorded music, so it's been exciting to get to have what we have on the show. For this project, we have orchestrations for a full live orchestra, but we also have programming and all kinds of elements we get to incorportate that make this speicific to TikTok and specific to the songs that were written. I think the creative boundaries are a lot wider than they sometimes are with a stage production, which is something that is exciting for us to get to work with.
What's your songwriting process? What's your favorite song that you've written for this production?
Daniel: Honestly, my songwriting process changes depending on who I’m working with, and from song to song. On For You, Paige I had the opportunity to write with one of my favorite people, Kate. She is so incredible and constantly blows my mind with the brilliance of her lyrics. Each song was different though; “Playing In My Key” was mostly music first. I had the ideas all written for the verse and chorus and Kate set lyrics to those. For “Standing By” it was a whole mix where I had some music ideas but Kate had some lyric ideas so we went back and forth. It truly changes every song; it’s all fluid. It’s so difficult to pick my favorite song, but I would have to say “Playing In My Key” was really special to write. It’s a thesis on being a songwriter. Landon hears music everywhere and struggles to connect, but can escape into music. I know I can relate to that, and I’m hoping the community of amazing writers on TikTok also connect to Landon. In terms of my favorite lyrics, I adore Kate’s lyric “LOOK OUT THERE, MOMENTS ARE EVERYWHERE, READY FOR STARS THAT DARE TO ALIGN.” There is something about “Stars that DARE to align” that I just love!
Kate: I wrote 3 different songs with Dan for this project and various other bits and pieces that you will throughout the show. We write differently for every song – sometimes it's music first, sometimes it's lyrics first – usually whoever writes first hands off the song without a bridge to the other person, and then the bridge is written in the opposite way. That way we can get some variation with the emotional or lyrical content of that moment. I really loved "Beyond the Dome" which is a song in the Utopia musical (within For You, Paige). It was written by Alex Engelberg and RJ Christian and they did an amazing job bringing that dystopian YA, #BookTok world to life.
Musical theater has taken off on TikTok. Can you talk about this community and how they've found a home on the app?
Daniel: The musical theater community has not only found a home, but has THRIVED on TikTok. It’s a place where it doesn’t matter who you are, or how many followers you have. Anyone from anywhere can share what they are passionate about and people will listen. The ability to connect with likeminded people is also unmatched. I’ve been able to collaborate with people from around the world who I never would have had the opportunity to meet if not for TikTok. I also still can’t believe the incredible community has enjoyed my music and my absurdist humor, and am so thankful to be a part of the community. I can’t wait for them all to see For You, Paige!
Macy: My first core memories of the musical theater community on TikTok are at the beginning of the pandemic, as I'm sure many people's are. There were trickles of streamed musical theater benefits going on, but nothing like what was happening on the platform, which is why I joined TikTok. There is nothing like it in the musical theater industry, having a community of people come together and collaborate but also be properly credited and compensated for songs. I think the way everyone contributes ideas and also gets credit for those ideas, is a really revolutionary model. It wasn't lost on us that the sheer number of people that watch a LIVE musical theater show on TikTok can sometimes be the amount of people that would see a Broadway show with years of a sold out house live. It's reaching a much wider audience than we ever could with live theater, but also totally blowing up the access of who gets to contribute to that kind of work and that really excites me.
What else would you want to see the TikTok community turn into a musical?
Roman: I mean the Bridgerton thing was pretty cool, and they just won a Grammy for writing The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical. I just want to see things continue to be created - I think an anime musical would be cool, seeing what people do with that! I say just keep creating and what sticks, sticks and what doesn't - don't stop.
What musical are you dying to see?
Sri: Right now I would love to see Friends the musical (like the TV show Friends) - it's my comfort TV show!