InDepth InterView: Robert Lopez & Kristen Anderson Lopez Talk New THE COMEDIANS Specialty Song, Plus UP HERE, FROZEN Onstage & Much More
Today we are talking to a terrifically talented twosome who are responsible for the songs for Disney's biggest hit film of all time, international blockbuster FROZEN, as well as the brains behind a spectacular new specialty song composed expressly for this week's episode of FX's new comedy series THE COMEDIANS - the affable and accomplished Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson Lopez. Discussing the finer points of composing a new tune for their FROZEN and BOOK OF MORMON collaborator Josh Gad especially for the series, a duet with no less than fellow Broadway headliner and Hollywood icon Billy Crystal, the Lopezes open up about their work process and storied history shared with Gad as well as what we can expect from the showstopper on tonight's new episode of the series. Additionally, the Lopezes shed some light on their brand new stage musical premiering later this year at the La Jolla Playhouse, UP HERE, and offer a preliminary sneak peek of what audiences can expect from the daring and original new piece. Plus, thoughts on the upcoming stage version of FROZEN and what is being planned for the hotly anticipated tuner as well as a behind the scenes recapitulation of penning new material for the FROZEN characters in the recent short film FROZEN FEVER, featuring the new composition "Making Today A Perfect Day". All of that, BOOK OF MORMON and AVENUE Q memories, thoughts on Tom Cruise potentially starring in their big screen project BOB: THE MUSICAL and much more with two of the most in demand songwriters on Broadway and in Hollywood.
THE COMEDIANS airs Thursdays at 10 PM on FX. More information is available at the official site here.
Also, don't miss BroadwayWorld's exclusive premiere clip of the new specialty song by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson Lopez penned for THE COMEDIANS, available here.
Let It Go
PC: How did you both become involved with THE COMEDIANS? Does it perhaps have anything to do with the Josh Gad connection?
RL: Yeah, it did. Josh is our friend from way back to the first workshop of THE BOOK OF MORMON, where he played Cunningham, and then of course we worked with him on FROZEN. So, now, he has this show that he is working on with Billy Crystal on FX, THE COMEDIANS, and we got this call out of the blue one day saying, "Do you want to be in an episode and do you want to write a song as yourselves for the episode?"
KL: "As yourselves!" [Both Laugh.]
PC: What was your reaction to that proposal?
RL: Well, it seemed kind of like the craziest thing in the world that we got to play ourselves and write the song like that...
KL: Honestly, it was one of the best days of 2014 - and we had some pretty great days in 2014!
PC: You can say that again! Winning an Oscar for Best Song among them, I'd wager.
KL: It was so much fun, though - we flew out there for 24 hours and got to experience being in a trailer and sitting in the make-up trailer and all of that. I remember calling up Josh the morning of our scenes and saying, you know, "Do I have to wear any make-up to set?" and he was like [Screams.] "No!" [Laughs.]
PC: So, you appear in the episode as well as wrote the song for it?
KL: Yes, we are actually in the episode.
PC: You had some lines to learn then, I assume?
KL: We did.
RL: Yes, we did, but it's sort of a Larry David-style sitcom, so there are lines but then you do the takes where you go off-script and just sort of improv, so that was fun for us to do, too.
KL: Yeah, it was.
RL: The coolest thing about that day, though, was Josh introducing us to Billy Crystal, right when we got to the set. And, then, immediately after that we had to film a scene where we met Billy Crystal for the first time - take after take after take! [Both Laugh.]
PC: Art imitating life!
RL: It really was.
PC: Is this the only song you have written for THE COMEDIANS or will there be more?
KL: Well, this is the first one so far! But, we love Josh and Billy and we loved working with them, so we really are enjoying being a part of the show, so I am sure if they asked us and we were not under too many other deadlines, we would definitely do it again.
PC: You've written special songs for other TV shows, as well - a song for THE SIMPSONS back in 2012, for instance.
KL: That's right!
RL: Yeah, that was me. I got a chance to do that, but it would have been better if Kristen had gotten the chance to work on it with me.
PC: On that note, how does your collaboration work exactly - particularly as husband and wife, too? When did you first start writing together?
RL: Well, Kristen and I met in the BMI musical theatre workshop. Kristen was an underclassman - I was in the third year and she was in her first year when we met. The first time she saw me was when we were doing the first time anything from AVENUE Q had ever been performed and Kristen was in the audience...
KL: And I was blown away - first, by how cute he was, and, second, by his talent. [Both Laugh.]
PC: It was love - and collaboration - at first sight!
KL: It was! It definitely was. So, we started going out after that and I was always a sounding board for anything he was writing at the time and he would be the sounding board for me for any stuff that I was doing. I probably stuck my nose in more than anybody would want to know on several of his projects...
RL: Yes, she definitely was a key ingredient to my creative support team and she had a hand in fixing things with both AVENUE Q and THE BOOK OF MORMON. My collaborators never knew it, though, because the ideas would always appear to come from me.
KL: But, eventually he was writing song for BEAR IN A BIG BLUE HOUSE and he called me when I lived in Long Island City and he lived in Greenpoint and he was like, "I need help with this song. Will you come over?" So, I rode the bus across town and then we started writing our first song together.
PC: What was it? Do you remember?
KL: I think it was actually, [Sings.] "Wide, wide world / Is open and free."
RL: Yeah, it was.
KL: I think I was recently quoted as saying our first song together was a song about the library, but that was actually our second song. The first song we wrote together was about the wide, wide world for BEAR IN A BIG BLUE HOUSE.
PC: What was THE PITCH for the song you wrote for THE COMEDIANS or did you have carte blanche to write anything, more or less?
RL: Basically, they didn't even say it had to be a full song - they said write a song or a part of a song that you think would be funny; whatever you want. So, I think we did the song based on the title so we wouldn't waste any time writing a full song, but we kind of wanted to write a full song anyway because we love Josh so much and we love Billy. So, we thought it would be great to see them sing a song together and this is what we came up with - it just came naturally out of that.
KL: Yeah, we wrote it really quickly. I mean, those guys are both such song and dance men that that made it so easy for us - 50 years ago they would have been headliners in the vaudeville scene, you know?!
PC: Born to sing showstoppers.
KL: Exactly. So, you know, we really wanted to honor that aspect of their talent with our song for them.
PC: The gist of the song is very relatable in some strange way - though obviously it is taken to the extreme in the performance itself. What was the kernel of the idea?
RL: To be honest, I don't know exactly where it came from, but I do know that it was my idea, though! [Both Laugh.]
PC: It's very unexpected.
RL: It's this weird, chaotic element in my brain, I think - other people have it, too; things that are usually solved in childhood, like "We don't have to do everything we think we should do;" you know, like jumping off a building or jumping in front of a train. So, I always thought of how funny it would be and how surprising it would be to kiss an old man full-on on the lips - especially if it was a hilarious and weird impulse control thing.
KL: And, also, I think the idea sprung out of the idea of the two generations we have doing the song on THE COMEDIANS - you know, Billy's generation is a lot more uptight about stuff like that and Josh's generation is a lot more free-for-all and fluid along those lines. You know, thinking about my baby boomer dad and then the millenials, I was thinking of what would really freak my dad out - it would be a weird, chaotic millennial coming up to him out of nowhere and kissing him.
PC: Will the song be available on iTunes?
RL: I hope so! We talked about it with them but we haven't been in the loop about it recently.
PC: FX being a sister network to FOX, which was home to GLEE and its hundreds of bestselling singles, it would make sense - GLEE actually did "Let It Go" this year, as you may know.
KL: Of course!
RL: Yeah, that was great that they did that.
PC: Is it amusing to see the song appear randomly in life and art for the both of you given its ubiquity?
KL: It is. I think the weirdest thing so far was that we were hiking in the desert and the song sort of drifted over in the air and I said, "I recognize that! Somebody is singing 'Let It Go'!" We were miles away from anywhere, but they were singing it - and singing it in French!
PC: What is your personal favorite foreign language version?
KL: Oh, I don't know.
RL: I like to see who the hottest actress playing Elsa is and go by that.
KL: He likes to see whoever the hottest Elsa is, but I like [Sings In French.] "Liberee / Liberee!" [Both Laugh.]
PC: Another thing I wanted to touch on was the recent rumor about Tom Cruise starring in a movie musical you wrote called BOB: THE MUSICAL.
RL: To be honest, we don't know. We worked on that project a while back and kind of wrapped our work for now on it, so we haven't been in meetings about it for a while. We don't know. I know that they were talking about Tom Cruise for the lead way back when we were working on it, too, so it would be cool to see him actually do it.
PC: Is there another project you'd love to work with Josh on in the future - perhaps FROZEN onstage?
RL: That's on our bucket list, for sure - to work with Josh in the theatre again. He's so good onstage - I mean, he's great in movies and animated movies and on TV and all that, but he is like Zero Mostel onstage; he is a great comic genius.
KL: He truly connects with the audience and is totally in the moment with whatever he is doing. So, to answer your question: yes. We could work with Josh for the rest of our careers and be totally happy, I think.
PC: So, you would be open to doing a show with Josh and Billy onstage, then, as well?
RL: Sure! Yeah.
KL: Of course! If we can do THE COMEDIANS on TV, THE COMEDIANS can do theatre with us.
PC: It would be wonderful if you come back and do more on the show in the future, too.
RL: Well, we're kind of hoping for a spin-off show, you know, Pat... [Both Laugh.]
PC: FROZEN has become such an international hit the world can't wait to see it onstage - let's hope it's sometime soon.
RL: We're working on FROZEN the musical right now. And, we very much remain New Yorkers and Broadway lovers, too...
KL: We're Broadway babies!
RL: And we're not going anywhere anytime soon.
KL: We have nothing if we don't have our love and passion for Broadway - that's where it all comes from for us.
PC: Santino Fontana just did this column (available here) and we were discussing some of the cut material from FROZEN. Will the stage score utilize any of that cut material or will it be all new, do you think?
RL: Oh, I don't think anything from the bottom drawer would really fit - those songs were all meant for moments that were eventually cut. But, never say never...
KL: There's always fabric there, though. In everything you do for these characters there are pieces and motifs and feels and tempos that you can say, "Oh, remember that one?" about when you're writing something new. We do recycle things, but they just aren't always recognizably recycled.
PC: I'm curious: have you seen anything recently you really enjoyed on Broadway or in New York?
KL: HAMILTON was great.
RL: We saw it in previews and we were both just blown away, as everyone seems to be.
KL: I'll also say that we have a whole line-up of shows we are seeing in the next couple of weeks, too, but we have been going back and forth to LA so much...
RL: It's hard.
KL: Yeah. When we get home, our kids don't allow us to go out! We are allowed to go out one night a week as long as we didn't travel that week.
RL: We really enjoyed HONEYMOON IN VEGAS, too - we thought that was just fantastic.
KL: Oh, yeah - it really was.
PC: Your new musical UP HERE is premiering later this year, so I assume that is taking up most of your time these days.
RL & KL: [Pause.] Yup! [Both Laugh.]
PC: Details on the production are strangely scarce - I know you start work at the La Jolla Playhouse soon, though, correct?
KL: Yep. We leave for La Jolla right after our kids' school ends - so, June 13 through August 24.
PC: Alex Timbers will direct, as well.
KL: Yes! We love him and we are so excited. He has been working really hard all year to come up with this crazy show.
RL: He's like our third spouse! [Both Laugh.]
PC: What tidbits can you reveal about the show at this stage? We're dying to know!
RL: Well, we could say that it's a wild design show and we've been seeing all the designs come in recently and we are just so excited - everyday something comes to us that just excites us all over again about the show and imagining it. I mean, it's the kind of show you have to see on its feet in order to get and we've never really done that, so we're really, really thrilled to see it all come together.
PC: Joshua Bergasse recently did this column (available here) and said he was equally enthused about choreographing it. Given the title, is it safe to assume that there will be aerial work?
KL: On Broadway! If it goes to Broadway... [Both Laugh.]
PC: Let's hope we hear more specialty songs from you two before then! Coming after your new song for the Oscars this year, you won't perhaps be doing anything for the Tonys, will you?
RL: I don't think so - not that I know of. We did the Oscars this year, so I think that's enough. But, yeah, this is kind of the year of one-offs for us, though - we said yes to doing the Oscars; then, we did the FROZEN FEVER song; and, now we did THE COMEDIANS song. At the end of doing all three things we both sort of realized that we were no farther forward on our big projects. So, we're done with the one-offs for now and we are going to focus on our real work.
KL: We've got a big mountain to climb this summer getting UP HERE to what we hope will be something really unique and special - and that's no easy feat!
PC: Thank you so much for this today, Robert and Kristen. Your global success as true Broadway babies is phenomenal to witness and all of us on BroadwayWorld can't wait to see what you both do next. We'll be following your every move.
KL: Thanks so much, Pat! We follow you, too.
RL: Thank you, Pat. Bye bye.
Photo Credits: Academy Awards, FX, Disney, etc.