Composer-writer-producer Daniel Mertzlufft is having a banner year in entertainment. The well-known TikTok creator has just launched his latest musical, For You, Paige. The project is Mertzlufft’s follow-up to his work on the beloved viral sensation Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical, which raised over one million dollars for the Actors Fund. 

For You, Paige is inspired by the real TikTok community, starring Roman Banks (High School Musical: The Musical: The Series) and Sri Ramesh (EarCandy)with Emmy winner Andy Cohen (Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live) serving as host.  

The plot follows Landon and his best friend Paige, who create a TikTok song inspired by her favorite book series. When Landon’s TikTok goes viral, it thrusts him into the spotlight — and he seemingly leaves Paige behind – until he realizes the power of collaboration and that he needs her help.

In conversation with Awards Focus, Mertzlufft discusses his approach to composing, his favorite musical moment in his career, and his inspiration for For You, Paige

Awards Focus: Can you talk about your approach to composing and crafting For You, Paige? Was there a clear tone you wanted to take from the outset?

Daniel Mertzlufft: There were numerous, extraordinarily specific goals that we were striving for with For You, Paige. The first thing we had to address was, “How do you keep the attention of someone scrolling through TikTok for over 50 minutes?” And on top of that, “How does one keep the story relevant to TikTok users and non-users alike?” 

Those were two big hurdles, in addition to figuring out how to build excitement for a show that’s not based on a famous IP (like all the other popular TikTok Musicals).

Each of these posed particular challenges, but they also were very helpful in the writing process since the assignment was so specific. To keep people’s attention – As many upbeat songs as possible (there’s only one ballad in the entire show). 

Every line of dialogue needs to be moving the story forward. While we incorporated numerous TikTok references, they were always placed in a way where they seemed natural if you didn’t know them. We trusted the story and let it do the talking. Finally, to build excitement, we made the writing process very transparent and built an audience over TikTok as we also built the show.

AF: What were the challenges of developing and performing this production in such a short time period?

Mertzlufft: The creative process was many things, but above all, it was fast. We announced the project on January 13th, 2022, and it premiered on April 14th, 2022. At the time of the announcement, we didn’t have a script, only the title and a basic outline to go off. 

That sense of urgency was actually the point of it, though. We wanted to peel back the curtain on the creative process and show TikTok users where we were and what we needed. A show doesn’t just arrive on Broadway written fully, it goes through years of revisions, and we wanted to show that process quickly! Luckily, I was surrounded by incredible songwriters, producers, and collaborators who helped bring this all together.

AF: What was your favorite musical moment?

Mertzlufft: It’s difficult to pick one singular moment, but I think it would be the end of the finale song, “Make The Moment Shine.” It’s a big choral section with massive orchestral chords and sums up the show’s themes so beautifully. 

It’s also one of my favorite lyrics in the entire show, written by the brilliant Kate Leonard; “Look out there, moments are everywhere, ready for stars that dare to align.” I remember reading that line for the first time and being blown away by the depth in the simplicity and the beauty behind stars that dare to align. Also, in the live broadcast, it meant that everything went well and we were close to the end… so I think that added to the excitement!

AF: Tell us a bit about your background. What inspired you in your early years to pursue this craft, and what was your first job in entertainment?

Mertzlufft: I started singing when I was three, and then piano came when I was four, so music was always a big part of my life. I didn’t really discover musical theatre until middle school, and a friend told me I had to listen to Rent. I downloaded the album from LimeWire, put it onto my iPod Nano, and then heard “Seasons of Love” – my life has not been the same. 

I started doing musicals shortly after, and I’d always been active in choir, which led to studying Music Education in college. During my first semester,  I showed some people some music I’d written for fun. They were impressed and told me I should add a composition degree. 

It had never even occurred to me that composing was a thing one could actually pursue. I applied, got in, and graduated in 2015 with an education and composition degree. Since then, I’ve been working and writing around NYC and did the BMI musical theater writing program. 

I was actively taking all the steps to build a career when the pandemic hit. I found TikTok as a place to use my creative energies, which led to me starting the “Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical” movement, and it changed my career forever. I was so lucky to work with people who are now lifelong friends and colleagues, and even some of my idols. I am so thankful to the entire community who brought that show to life, and I am proud to call it my “breakthrough” project.

AF: What is one film, show or production that inspired your work on For You, Paige?

Mertzlufft: Without a doubt, it would be High School Musical. That project capitalizes on how everything seems very intense and high stakes in High School; it’s a perfect setting when dreams start to come up against real-world pressures. So we took to the idea of that, along with some Hunger Games, Dear Evan Hansen, Mean Girls, and countless others, and put a TikTok spin on it, and that’s how we got For You, Paige.

AF: What would awards recognition for For You, Paige mean to you, given your experience making this project and the history-making Grammy win for another TikTok production earlier this year?

Mertzlufft: For You, Paige is a love letter to the incredible Musical Theater community on TikTok. An awards recognition would be so exciting to show that what we are creating is real and expands beyond the boundaries of the app. It doesn’t matter if songs aren’t on a Broadway stage or in a feature film. The work we are all creating is legitimate, and there is a place for it in the world.

You can connect with Daniel Mertzlufft on his Website.