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Moritz helps bring ‘Ratatousical’ to life

Youngstown native Michael J. Moritz Jr. has worked on his share of Broadway musicals.

Now, he’s working on an imaginary one, or at least a musical that is following a very nontraditional path to its existence.

Moritz is producing the music mixes for a concert version of “Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical,” a crowd-sourced musical born on social media. The concert will debut at 7 p.m. Friday at ratatousical.com, and it only will be available through Monday for a minimum donation of $5.

Moritz said he has crews in on both coasts and in Europe working to complete the project in time for that premiere.

“Between L.A., New York and Germany, we’re working 24-hour shifts on this to get it done,” he said. “I don’t know how we could have gotten the music mixes done if we didn’t have that edge.”

The “Ratatousical” is based on the 2007 Disney / Pixar animated feature “Ratatouille,” about a rat named Remy who aspires to be a master chef in France. Unlike many Disney animated films, “Ratatouille” wasn’t a musical, but fans on social media began writing songs for an imagined musical, and others began recording and sharing their own versions of the songs and submitting videos with ideas for choreography, costumes and production design.

As interest swelled online and “Ratatousical” started getting national media attention, the idea for a concert version was born, with proceeds benefiting The Actors Fund, which provides a variety of support services for arts workers.

“This was not cooked up in a writers’ room somewhere,” Moritz said. “It really did originate on social media, and this will be one of the most complex and fully realized versions of something like that.”

Moritz, who won a Tony Award in 2019 as one of the producers of best musical winner “Hadestown” and also was involved with such shows as “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” and “Big Fish,” offered his services when the project first was announced in early December, but the producer told him they already had a production team in place.

“A couple days later, he said, ‘I think we actually do need you and brought me in,” Moritz said.

Moritz has become the go-to guy for creating online productions during the COVID-19 pandemic that deliver the audio standards that audiences expect. He produced “Saturday Night Seder,” a virtual Passover Seder that featured performances by Idina Menzel, Billy Porter, Darren Criss, Josh Groban, Rachel Brosnahan, Jason Alexander and Ben Platt that raised $3 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

He also worked on UNICEF’s “We Won’t Stop,” which aired on MSNBC and featured Annie Lennox and Jordin Sparks, and People magazine’s Carousel of Hope Ball fundraiser, which involved creating a remake of “That’s What Friends Are For” with Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, Sam Smith and Cynthia Erivo.

For those events, Moritz had to take recordings the performers made themselves, often recorded with their phones, and then remove the extraneous noise and clean up the sound quality so they blended together seamlessly.

“There’s not a way to put singers in a studio safely, at least not yet,” Moritz said.

The “Ratatouille” concert version — with a star-studded cast that includes Tituss Burgess, Adam Lambert, Wayne Brady, Andre De Shields, Ashley Park and Kevin Chamberlin backed by the 20-piece Broadway Sinfonietta — presented additional challenges.

“With pop or rock, you may have just one vocalist,” he said. “There are a lot of music tracks, but only one vocal track. Here you have duets and characters who need to interact with each other that are never in the same room.”

But for a musician and producer who has had to adapt the way he works due to the pandemic restrictions, he described “Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical” as the closest thing to normal that he’s experienced since March.

“We have a great team or orchestrators, composers, music copyists who hopped in to do what they do in real life,” Moritz said. “This felt like the in-the-room Broadway process for me.”

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