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BWW Interview: Brett Boles Talks Becoming a TikTok Sensation With His New Series THE M. TEA!

In The M. Tea, Boles dissects some the most famous musical theatre songs of all time, showing why they work musically, why they affect us emotionally, and more.

BWW Interview: Brett Boles Talks Becoming a TikTok Sensation With His New Series THE M. TEA!

"Welcome to The M. Tea, a series where I 'spill the tea' on why certain musical theatre songs work so well, from a songwriter's perspective!" If you've heard this pop up on your For You Page in the last few months, you are in good company! Brett Boles' new TikTok series The M. Tea has wracked up 358.4K likes and 42K followers since launching in late December, and Boles has shown no signs of slowing down any time soon!

Brett Boles is an award-winning musical theatre composer and lyricist, and high school choir teacher. His musical Foreverman premiered at NYMF where it won Outstanding Orchestrations and the New World Stages Development Prize, and his work has been performed by the likes of Jeremy Jordan, Josh Young, Janine DiVita and more. He co-conceived From Broadway With Love: A Benefit Concert for Sandy Hook with Tony-winning producer and founder/president of Broadway Records Van Dean, and he has also collaborated with Seth Rudetsky, arranging work for Stephanie Mills and Orfeh for the Concerts for America series.

In his new TikTok series, The M. Tea, Boles dissects some the most famous musical theatre songs of all time from Music of the Night to Defying Gravity to Seasons of Love, showing why they work musically, why they affect us emotionally and more. He holds live sessions on TikTok every Friday night at 9:30PM EST, where he interacts with his followers, taking specific requests and answering questions!

You can find Boles and The M. Tea on TikTok @brettboles, on Instagram @brettbolesmusic, and on YouTube @brettboles, as well as on Facebook @themteafb.

We spoke with Boles about how he came up with the idea for The M. Tea, how he analyzes a song and more!

How did you decide that you wanted to venture onto TikTok with this idea?

Yeah, venturing onto TikTok was something I never thought I would ever do, that's for sure! I'm a high school teacher, I teach high school choir right now, and all my kids are always on it, so I hear about it all the time. Other than that I had never even seen it. But, once this whole Ratatouille thing started happening - and I had actually written a few tunes for an adaptation that I was doing before the whole TikTok thing blew up- I was like, "You know what? It's time for me to stop being so bad at social media!" I've been notoriously bad at that my whole career. So, I figured, "I'm going to get on there, and this is an opportunity I have to engage people where they are right now." I've always wanted to teach more people about how songs are put together, because nobody really does that. People deconstruct performances, but the tunes themselves? Nobody really does that. And knowing how big the musical theatre following is on TikTok, I thought, "Maybe that's a place where I can reach a lot of people and do some teaching, combine all the loves in my life: education, musical theatre as an art form, songwriting," not knowing if I was going to end up with two followers or two-hundred, or more, I had no idea. But, it took off more than I ever really expected it to. So it's been good.

Are the songs you analyze already in your head, things you've been mentally analyzing for years and have stored up?

I was a composition major in college and my niche was musical theatre, so I've been doing this a long time. I've always kind of looked at music that way, because as a writer I wanted to know how to do it, I wanted to know how to put a song together. And so, every song I ever came across I sort of looked at like that. There are some that I've given more thought to than others, for sure. But, because I'm so practiced at looking at music that way, it doesn't take me very long. A lot of the songs that people have asked me to cover on there I haven't really looked at in depth, and I never decide what I'm going to do until literally five minutes before I go and do it, because I have no time in my life. So, I generally will pick the song, whatever inspires me on that day, and will look at it for a couple of minutes and see what my angle is going to be on it, and then I take ten minutes and record it and just send it out! I'm just really used to looking at it that way. There's some that I've thought about, but there's some that I just look at on the day of with fresh eyes and figure out how I'm going to do it.

Have you gotten any requests where you didn't know the score that well, or do you know all of them?

I know a lot of them. I was a private voice teacher for years and years before I was in public school, too. I'm pretty good at being up to date with what's current, I've taught so much repertoire and coached so much repertoire that a lot of it is in my head. There's some stuff that I don't know as well that I haven't put out yet that I'm probably going to do this week. Like, Great Comet I don't know as well, so I'll have to look at that a little more than some of the others. Be More Chill I don't know that well, and a couple of people have requested that. I'll do it, I just haven't looked at it yet. So, yeah, there are some things I don't know as well, but I'll still do them.

What would you say is a request that you've gotten where you hadn't really thought about that song before?

The Hamilton stuff and the Dear Evan Hansen stuff especially. Those two, I've seen the shows but I never really looked at the scores to see, "Well, what's really going on here?" Some of it I just don't have time to do, so I never really did. It was kind of cool looking at the Dear Evan Hansen score especially, looking at some of those repeated note motifs that follow Evan throughout the show. That's stuff that I never really looked at before, but when I sat down to look at the score I was like, "Oh, that's really neat, maybe people will find that interesting!"

So, when you get a request do you just look at the score and listen along with the album?

Yeah, sometimes I just look, I don't always listen. Sometimes I do, but looking at the score I can hear it in my head, or if I know it already, then I know it already.

Do you have a personal favorite musical theatre song?

I do. My favorite musical is Ragtime, and my favorite musical theatre song of all time is Finishing the Hat. Of course it's Sondheim, so it's perfectly written and it's perfectly put together and well-crafted and all that, but it also hits me on a personal level. As an artist and someone who creates art, it speaks to me in a way that a lot of other songs don't quite the same way.

What's been the best part of doing this series so far for you?

The best part for me has been the comments where people are like, "I'm going to look at this song completely differently now!" Or when people say, "Hey, I was just listening to this other song and is this something that is cool about it?" People are starting to listen with new ears, and that to me is the coolest thing. That is why I'm doing this. So, to have comments like that where people are saying that they're going and listening to other things now with the same ears they're listening to the stuff that I'm introducing them to, that is chef's kiss, golden, that is amazing.

Do you have a favorite video that you've done so far? One that you were especially excited to share with people?

There were a couple that I was really excited about. I was definitely excited about Avenue Q, how the tune to 'What do you Do with a B.A. in English?' was originally written to the tune of Rainbow Connection, I thought that was so cool! The Defying Gravity one is kind of classic. I didn't know putting that out there, with the Somewhere Over the Rainbow theme, if people already knew that, because Stephen Schwartz has talked about that before. So, I didn't know if people were going to be like, "Yeah, old news, we know that already." But apparently a lot of people didn't know that! So that was cool, seeing their reactions on that. Even though it hasn't gotten as many views, the one that I did on 'Only Us' from Dear Evan Hansen, where I talked about how you can tell when someone is musically invested in another character by the way they adopt that other character's musical vocabulary. It's a really cool technique we as writers use, but that most people aren't aware of.

Post-pandemic, when we're allowed to start safely creating in normal ways again, would you like to do something with this series, make it into a live show?

I do! I would kill to do a live tour of this, and have like, a Laura Benanti or a Sutton Foster or a Laura Osnes or somebody with me when I go and do this live to help perform the tunes with me, and then I do my crazy analysis stuff and do some audience participation. That's been a really cool aspect of the TikTok stuff that I love. I love talking to people and hearing what they think and reacting in time. Sharing the love of music and theatre, it's what I live for.

That's why I love your series. I think it's awesome, having people, especially tons of young people, look at musical theatre in a way that they never thought to.

I put it out there for the general public, but I would kind of hope that it especially reaches people that are performers, or that want to be performers. Because I think there's a tendency these days for, especially the younger generation, to watch clips of other famous people performing songs on YouTube and they think, "Oh, well, that's what there is to that, that's the way I'm going to do it," not realizing that there's a whole other level of work that you can do as a performer to dig into the music and develop your own take on why certain things are written the way that they are. Then you have your own unique interpretation of a song, and when you go to perform it you're going to be that much better because of it, instead of being a carbon copy of something you watched Sutton Foster do, you know?

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