Broadway is a magical place, and the inner workings of some of our favorite stage ballads and anthems are almost as captivating as the songs themselves. Brett Boles is pulling back the curtain (no pun intended) on some of Broadway’s most well-known and well-loved songs with his TikTok series The M. Tea, and I spoke to him about the idea and how he makes it work within the confines of social media.
Brittany Frederick: Where did the idea for The M. Tea come from? Was it a new idea you decided to pursue during quarantine, or was it something you’ve been wanting to do and recent events just gave you the time to finally do it?
Brett Boles: Actually, neither. I never, ever, ever, ever thought that I would ever do something like this. But I’m a teacher [and] all my kids are on TikTok. I never looked at it before I decided to do this. But I thought it was time to get a little bit better at social media because I’ve always been notoriously bad at it. And as a writer in my other job, it’s important to have a good handle on that. So I was thinking, how am I going to do this? And what can I offer people on that medium that they can’t really get anywhere else?
Then I had this idea of like, well, Seth Rudetsky is so great at deconstructing performances, but I thought nobody really deconstructs the songs themselves and tells people how their favorite songs work and why they’re moved emotionally by what they listened to. I was in a unique position as a writer and a teacher and a performer to put it all into perspective that way. I thought maybe that’s something people would like. And so I thought, if I have 300 people following it, that’d be great. That’s 300 more people I can educate. Then it turns out it was way more popular than just that, so here we are.
BF: Why did you choose TikTok as the platform and not something more flexible like Instagram or YouTube?
BB: The 60-second time limit. At least right now, I don’t have time in my life to record anything longer than that. I thought this is a way for people to see something quick, to give quick feedback. I think sometimes on other media, people expect it to be a little bit longer, more in-depth. It’s impossible to do that on this platform. I thought if I could make something into little bite-sized chunks, little nuggets that people could take away, and still feel connected to you and still feel like they learned something, that would be really neat.
BF: Does that time limit affect which songs you choose for The M. Tea? Or did you pick songs that you love personally? What was the selection criteria?
BB: At the beginning, it was the songs that I really enjoyed and then I could easily find an angle on. Some are harder to find a 60-second angle on than others. But then a lot more people started to respond to it and start making requests. And I thought, all right, I’ll just compile a master list and every day I’ll just consult that list and see what in that list of requests inspire me in that moment to go and do. So I did that for a while.
And then my good friend Rob Berliner, who’s now my co-producer on this thing, had the idea of making theme days of the week to help organize it a little bit better. That’s been working so far. We’ve been doing it about a week now and it’s been working really, really great. And now I take requests from our Patreon page. We have a Patreon page now that people can support [us] and request from there.
BF: Is there a favorite installment for you that you’d recommend people start with if they’re just discovering the series?
BB: The one that seems to have tickled most people was the “Defying Gravity” one with the “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” theme that’s hidden inside there, that Seth put there. People seem to get a kick out of that one. And then my most watched one is the “Go the Distance” one, which I didn’t think was particularly revelatory in any way. But it’s got just enough in it, and I think people like the mix of me singing and doing the analysis. But I think the “Defying Gravity” one is probably the coolest. Who doesn’t know “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”? That’s just kind of cool, that composers can hide those things in there without you really being aware of it.
BF: Are there any ones that surprised you and went in a direction you didn’t expect or where you uncovered something that was new even to you?
BB: A lot of them. I know the songs really well. Most of the ones that I do, anyway. I haven’t looked at them on my own time in the same way as I do before I go to do one of these videos. I learn something new almost every time I go to do one of these things. Almost everything that I talk about in every video is something that I just learned from looking at the tune this time around. So that’s been pretty cool.
I think the most interesting one that didn’t go the way I thought it was going to go was probably the episode on Six that I did. I didn’t realize how many people out there were completely nuts about that show. I found that cool thing about the last verse being in G-flat major, which has six flats; that’s something that a lot of people wouldn’t have known. It was really interesting to see all the comments and all the views that that one got because I had no idea that that musical was as popular as it is.
BF: You’ve gotten to do a lot of interesting things in your career as both a teacher and composer. What would you say is one of your favorite accomplishments?
BB: I’m from Newtown, Sandy Hook, Connecticut. After the shooting happened in 2012, Van Dean and I put together a benefit concert at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, Connecticut. That remains the most magical night of my entire life, getting all those Broadway performers together to put on this concert for the community. And the families were so appreciative that I don’t think anything in my life will ever top that. That remains the greatest thing that I’ve ever done and the most special thing that I’ve ever done.
The M. Tea can be found exclusively on TikTok at 9:30 p.m. ET/6:30pm PT each Friday.
Article content is (c)2020-2021 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr, on Instagram at @BFTVGram.