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Why RATATOUILLE went viral & earned $1.5 Million: composer Daniel Mertzlufft & lyricist Kate Leonard -- learn their names! -- LONG
Last Edit: GrumpyMorningBoy 02:09 am EST 01/08/21
Posted by: GrumpyMorningBoy 01:59 am EST 01/08/21

Learn these names. Daniel Mertzlufft (music) and Kate Leonard (lyrics).

As you hopefully saw, the Actors Fund livestream of RATATOUILLE, the TikTok-fueled fan-created musical earned more than $1.5 million dollars for The Actor’s Fund. Although there were many creatives involved with this project, Daniel Mertzlufft should take a lot of the credit. It was his original arrangement of a someone else’s a cappella melody (and awkward lyric) which went viral on TikTok, and then inspired musical theater fans around the world to join in.

$1.5 mil is a nice chunk of change, but whatever he writes next could easily earn a whole lot more than a million and a half bucks. This guy is more than merely talented; he’s commercial. And when he writes with the excellent new lyricist Kate Leonard, magic happens.

They should be getting meetings with every film studio in Hollywood that’s even thinking of developing a musical.

Mr. Mertzlufft is young — a 2015 college grad in composition and voice — but after working at iTheatrics in NYC, he's having quite the year thanks to TikTok.

If you’re unfamiliar, TikTok is the viral video app that’s launched entire careers; when Lil Nas X’s began promoting “Old Town Road” there, it took him from complete obscurity into massive wealth and fame, making him a global superstar with the top-selling global pop hit of 2019.

Mr. Mertzlufft’s mini video musicals have similarly gone viral there — beyond RATATOUILLE — earning him a November invitation on James Cordon’s CBS Late Late Show for an original performance he commissioned, a hilarious number based on Thanksgiving.

Check out the link below to watch — it features Mr. Corden, Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald, Kristin Chenoweth, Josh Gad & Josh Groban. It’s great.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Why ”Remember My Name” is terrific

I haven’t written a post like this in a long time, but I want to get into the talent of Mr. Mertzlufft and Ms. Leonard, and analyze the I Want song that they created for this show. Although the full ‘Broadway Cast’ show is no longer featured on TodayTix, you can hear “ Remember My Name” all over the web in any number of covers. Like everything else associated with the show, it’s taken on a life of its own.

And it’s terrific.

If you’d handed me a professional recording of this song and told me that Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty had written it, I wouldn’t have doubted you for a second. But I’d never heard of these writers before RATATOUILLE, and the quality of this writing inspired me to spend some time with their work.

They’re young. And so far, that youthfulness is reflected in their work. It means that they naturally tap into a zeitgeist the way that, say, Benj Pasek & Justin Paul are able to, but it also means that they might still be in that part of a young artists’ life where one studies the form by copying the masters.

I intend it as a tremendous compliment when i say that their work resembles that of well-established Broadway writing teams, and Mr. Mertzlufft admitted as such when he dove into the RATATOUILLE idea, saying how much he’d always dreamed of scoring a big Disney finale. He very intentionally wrote something that would fit in with the well-worn genre.

But considering the lighthearted silliness of TikTok, his task on this project was something similar to Bobby Lopez’s on THE BOOK OF MORMON: to write songs that just slightly feel like a sendup of the form, yet do so with such earnestness and good craft that you give in and buy into the sentimentality of it all. And therefore, “Remember My Name” offers very clear nods to Stephen Schwartz (“The Wizard and I,” particularly) and Alan Menken (“Go The Distance,” plus his entire Disney canon).

But the craft is seriously good. And they wrote this thing in a matter of days.

Based on what I’ve heard so far, Mr. Mertzlufft has that exceptionally rare instinct that makes the difference between a terrific musical theater writer and a merely serviceable one: he instinctually feels what a character’s subtext should sound like. Far too many musical composers merely mirror the emotions of a lyric, resulting in songs that feel too on-the-nose and pat. When he collaborates with Ms. Leonard, as on this song, the overlay of lyric and score takes on depth that sparkles and resonates.

I can’t imagine how good the results might be if they tackled even deeper topics.

In the last few days I’ve spent some time listening to Mr. Mertzlufft’s other writing — he’s written an opera — and beyond being a terrific singer and charismatic performer, he’s got very good chops for orchestrations and arrangements. To my ear, these early works show that he really likes to surprise the ear within his song structure. In “Remember My Name,” you can hear that on the phrase “I’ll boil and broil and fry,” and “determine what vermin would do.” By inserting just a few more measures where we don’t expect them, he sustains the tension beautifully before rewarding with a payoff.

I would love to hear him go even further with some of those creative innovations.

Right now, Mr. Mertzlufft seems extra interested in rhythm, song form, and chord structure, and I’ve got to say this: he has excellent taste. Incredible instincts. Much of what he’s writing these seems aligned with the current trend to keep the melody super simple (which, let’s be honest, may be one reason why his songs take off the way they do — how many TikTokers have the chops to tackle a big soaring melody?). But if / when he wants to depart that trend and spin a creative melody, I’d really love to hear where his melodies could go.

But it amazes me that he can churn out songs this good on what seems like just a few drafts. The best writing is often what happens with revision; If he had the time (and money) to really develop a mature musical, I think he could pen a massive Broadway or movie musical hit. MASSIVE.

Let’s talk about Kate Leonard’s lyric:

transcribed by a fan, so apologies to Ms. Leonard if anything’s incorrect

Am I really at Gusteau's?
Can it actually be?
I was looking for a sign and got a 20-foot marquee
I've been dreaming of a life
Where I'm not just getting by
So now that I'm here I'm aiming high
I'll boil and broil and fry
'Til my name's the one in the sky

Paris, I hope you're ready for Remy's haute cuisine
With service and presentation like no one's ever seen
This epicure imminiature will set your hearts aflame
And the world will remember my name

Hear the clang of copper pots
Take a whiff of that mirepoix
See the final sprig of tarragon that makes the big ta-da!
This is where I'm meant to be
This is what I must pursue
So I won't let a narrow-minded view
Determine what vermin can do
Look out ‘cause this rat's coming through

Paris, I hope you're ready for Remy's restaurant
With style and innovation that's truly au courant
This rodentine nouvelle cuisine is gonna change the game
And the world will remember my name

I'll wow all my guests with the dishes I'm trying
Not writing new rules, merely ratifying
From Maillard reactions to flavor extractions
I'll prove what I knew all along
I can be special
A rat can be special
My family was wrong

Paris, I hope you're ready for Remy on the rise
With passion and perseverance surprising for his size
This gastronome is finally home and ready to proclaim
That the world will remember my name

__________

That is a damn good lyric.

Ms. Leonard took a ten second TikTok video that launched this entire thing — with a lyric that was somewhat nonsensical, saying “may the world remember your name” — and turned it into a full fledged solo. Aside from the brilliant use of French phrases and rhymes throughout, she saves her most clever lyric — ratifying — for a moment that showboats perfectly (and sends up WICKED at the same time).

But what impresses me most is the penultimate stanza, which is also the musical climax of the song. This is how I know that Ms. Leonard is the real deal; she understands drama and conflict and sees into the heart of the matter.

Again — these songs were written in a matter of days. If she can write something this good in a time crunch, imagine what she could write with months of patient collaboration?

I don’t know either of these writers. But if someone out there has some money and the rights to a good project, you’d be a fool not to get in touch with these songwriters to see what else they can do.

As for the rest of us? Remember their names.

- GMB

p.s. Visit the link below and check out Daniel Mertzlufft’s recent interview with his alma mater, which includes a link to his appearance on James Cordon’s Late Late Show. You'll love it.
Link SUNY Potsdam’s TikTok Sensation: “You Can Never Stop Creating”
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