Where Broadway meets TikTok: A performer’s journey from stage to screen

Twenty-five-year-old JJ Niemann is a Broadway performer who has appeared in

Provided by JJ Niemann

Twenty-five-year-old JJ Niemann is a Broadway performer who has appeared in “The Book of Mormon” and the recent TikTok musical “Ratatouille the Musical.” After Broadway shut down March 2020 due to the pandemic, Niemann turned towards TikTok to continue showcasing his acting, singing and dancing as well as behind-the-scenes of Broadway life. Niemann has rose to popularity on the platform, with over 660 thousand followers on TikTok.

“Remy, the ratatouille, the rat of all my dreams. I praise you, my ratatouille. May the world remember your name.” 

The original movie “Ratatouille,” featuring the loveable and wholesome Remy the rat, recently made a resurgence this year on TikTok as different songs and scenes from the movie were shared and used across the platform. The popularity led to “Ratatouille the Musical,” catching the eye of 25-year-old Broadway actor JJ Niemann. In a Tik Tok video with almost 200 thousand views, Niemann excitedly shared his wish to become a part of the cast. 

Niemann first joined the trend alongside other users, pretending to be in “Ratatouille”-themed musical rehearsals and on stage in his videos. As he grew in popularity, one of his TikToks of pretending to rehearse for what would become “Ratatouille the Musical” was even reposted by the Disney on Broadway account on Instagram. 

“I had definitely put in my flair and created part of the world around [“Ratatouille the Musical”] in imagining what it would be like if it was really put on,” Niemann said. “So I think that’s really fun, and I’m really happy to be a part of this trend.” 

Just a couple of weeks later, the cast of “Ratatouille the Musical” was announced. Niemann would be joining the cast as part of the ensemble, stating in his videos that he was thrilled to work alongside Broadway stars and Tony Award nominees.

Nominated for a Drama League Award for Outstanding Digital Concert Production on March 3, “Ratatouille the Musical,” which streamed in early 2021, helped raise over two million dollars for The Actors Fund, which is an organization that supports arts workers during the pandemic. 

Niemann, who grew up in a family of performers, participated in the Children’s Theater Show in Maryland at eight years old. His experience with theater gradually began to grow, with him acting in shows in regional theaters and during university. Now a Broadway performer, he has performed in musicals such as “The Book of Mormon” and has workshopped in the ensemble for “BLISS.” Niemann also choreographs and teaches dance routines for different songs and musicals. His TikTok page centers around his journey to Broadway and the behind-the-scenes life of a professional performer. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though, Broadway went dark on March 12, 2020. Musicals, along with much of the rest of our world, shut down, and performances were halted. Niemann, who at the time was preparing for the productions “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and “Newsies,” was forced to return home and find other ways to pass his time in quarantine. 

“The pandemic obviously affected me a lot,” Niemann said. “It definitely halted my plans, and it halted the performing arts in the entire country. I mean, Broadway has been shut down, and this has never ever, ever, ever happened.”

But this was when Niemann found a different musical theater community to turn to. When the physical stage was taken away, Niemann used Tiktok as a new platform to share his passion for theater. Now, Niemann boasts an impressive 41 million likes in total across all his videos. 

“I’m really happy that I discovered TikTok in mid to late March [of 2020] because the theater community there is so big,” Niemann said. “It’s been so amazing to be a part of that and to see how people respond to things.” 

Niemann also hopes that with his content, he can give other young performers a taste of the show business world and of performing on Broadway or on other stages. He hopes that his viewers realize that many of these actors were also once “theater kids,” and that their dreams are actually achievable. 

“There are so many people out there all around the country that love theater, but Broadway seems like this term that people throw on [that is very] elusive,” Niemann said. “It’s been fun to really pull back the curtain and show people, ‘No, we’re literally theater kids and goofballs, but we just are professional and we’re working.’” 

Furthermore, Niemann has enjoyed watching the theater community expand on the TikTok platform, and he is happy that being a fan of musicals is becoming an accepted social norm, with more and more people beginning to embrace the art. Especially with popular musicals such as the “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” and “Glee” television shows, musicals are becoming a larger part of mainstream culture. 

Niemann thoroughly loves being a part of the theater community on TikTok. He is able to connect with other content creators as well as people who watch his videos, due to the many shared experiences between theater students and fans.  

I do think theater kids have a huge takeover on the app for sure. There’s such a huge community. There’s so much shared experience [within the theater profession], which I think is really special.”

— JJ Niemann

“I do think theater kids have a huge takeover on the app for sure,” Niemann said. “There’s such a huge community. And with the rise of movie musicals, I think we’ve seen over the years that people are getting more and more interested in it. There’s so much shared experience [within the theater community], which I think is really special.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many new people have downloaded and watched or posted videos on TikTok: on the iOS App Store, it is the #1 entertainment app, and in August 2020, the company announced that they have 100 million active users in the United States alone.

“I’m really thankful that [TikTok has] turned into such a thing because it really has given me an artistic outlet,” Niemann said. “It’s given me a community. It’s given me exposure too. I’ve gotten to do so many cool interviews and things and partnerships and brand deals and stuff, so it’s been really special.” 

Even during difficult times, artists have continued to pursue their passion and put out content in a variety of ways. And through platforms like TikTok, users at home have been able to connect and find happiness through these creators. 

“With the spirit of creativity, artists have found ways [to thrive] during this pandemic. We’ve done virtual concerts, people have done full album releases and virtual shows, we’ve done streaming things, we’re doing TikTok, we’re creating a musical online,” Niemann said. “We don’t have our normal lives right now, so I think this pandemic has shown even more how important artists are. We might not be ‘essential workers,’ but we are essential to a joyful and happy life.”

Niemann is hopeful that after the pandemic ends and theaters open once again, Broadway will return with renewed vigor. 

“I have no doubt in my mind that it’s going to come back,” Niemann said. “I am super hopeful, and I think it’s going to come back bigger and better than ever and hopefully more accessible.”

Reporting by Alysa Suleiman.