“It wasn’t writ­ten to ter­rorise”

Robert Lopez and wife Kris­ten An­der­son-lopez are re­spon­si­ble for the song (sorry, par­ents) ‘Let It Go’. With his mu­si­cal The Book Of Mor­mon in the midst of a hit Aus­tralian run, Lopez tells Stel­lar find­ing his cre­ative spark has al­ways been a fam­ily af­fai

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Stellar - - Contents - In­ter­view by ADRI­ENNE TAM

With Robert Lopez’s com­edy mu­si­cal The Book Of Mor­mon in the midst of a hit Aus­tralian run, the man who brought us ‘Let It Go’ says find­ing his cre­ative spark has al­ways been a fam­ily af­fair.

The first song that Robert Lopez ever wrote was called ‘Oy Vey, What A Day!’ At seven, the New York na­tive al­ready had a flair for the funny. His tal­ents only flour­ished. To­day, Lopez is an ac­claimed song­writer and lyri­cist, who co-cre­ated smash mu­si­cals Av­enue Q and The Book Of Mor­mon and, at 42, is the youngest-ever EGOT holder.

EGOTS are a rare breed – only a dozen en­ter­tain­ers lay claim to win­ning com­pet­i­tive Emmy, Grammy, Os­car and Tony awards. Lopez be­came one in 2014. A self-pro­fessed fam­ily man, he clinched the ti­tle when he and wife Kris­ten An­der­son-lopez, a song­writer he met in mu­sic class in 1999, earned their Os­cars for ‘Let It Go’, which be­came a world­wide hit af­ter fea­tur­ing in Dis­ney’s Frozen.

Lopez in­sists he has no qualms about the song’s ubiq­ui­tous reign. “It was not writ­ten to ter­rorise any­one!” he says with a laugh. “It was writ­ten to solve a prob­lem in the story, and to be a big mo­ment. It’s al­ways that for us.” The duo wrote new songs for an up­com­ing stage ver­sion of Frozen, which hits Broad­way next year. “When we get to see it on­stage now, it’s re­ally pow­er­ful,” he tells Stel­lar. “It al­ways makes us feel good to hear it.”

It had bet­ter, be­cause the pair just can’t seem to es­cape Frozen’s icy clutches – or each other. They are cre­at­ing new songs for the film’s se­quel, slated for a 2019 re­lease. Many would baulk at the thought of work­ing in­ti­mately with their part­ner for days on end. Not Lopez.

“You get to spend all your time with your best friend in the whole world,” he rea­sons. “That’s good. It means you have even more in com­mon; not just lov­ing the same thing, hav­ing kids and liv­ing to­gether, but be­ing in­volved in a de­tailed way on a big project.

“Some­times it can lead to trou­ble – you can have lapses in com­mu­ni­ca­tion, more pres­sure and stress,” he ad­mits. “But that usu­ally leads to closer com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the long run. She is the most im­por­tant per­son in the world to me – she and our kids, ob­vi­ously. I feel so lucky to get to work with some­one who makes me so happy.”

Frozen was a fam­ily col­lab­o­ra­tion in more ways than one. Daugh­ters Katie, 12, and An­nie, eight, were roughly the same age as the young sis­ters in Frozen

when the film was be­ing de­vel­oped. They helped make demos that fea­tured kids’ voices; Katie dreamed up a hand­ful of lyrics. “They would be first to hear our work,” Lopez says. “We’d burn a CD and play it in the car as we picked them up from school. If they wanted to hear it again, we’d present the song to Dis­ney. If they lost in­ter­est, that was not one we’d pass along.”

The girls also serve as a nec­es­sary re­minder to their fa­ther that some of his work is de­cid­edly not fam­ily-friendly. Lopez re­counts tak­ing Katie to see Av­enue Q – which mixes hu­mans, pup­pets and rib­ald hu­mour – when she was four. “I was tak­ing her in and out of the the­atre all through act one [be­cause of the fre­quent adult hu­mour]. In act two, I ended up leav­ing her in her seat and sit­ting with her and watch­ing it.” His key take­away? “I realised there’s not enough filthy stuff in act two!”

Av­enue Q, which Lopez co-wrote with lyri­cist Jeff Marx, was a sur­prise hit that went on to win three Tony awards in 2004, up­stag­ing ex­pected vic­tor Wicked. Lopez has cited the film ver­sion of South Park as an in­spi­ra­tion; in turn, South Park cre­ators Trey Parker and Matt Stone met Lopez when they came to see Av­enue Q. Con­ver­sa­tions en­sued, cre­ative sparks flew and, in 2006, the trio kicked off the de­vel­op­ment of The Book Of Mor­mon.

That mu­si­cal hit Broad­way in 2011, and tells the story of two Amer­i­can mis­sion­ar­ies sent to a re­mote African vil­lage to preach the word of God. Since its pre­miere, it has con­sis­tently played to ca­pac­ity crowds across the world. Its lo­cal pro­duc­tion – 200-plus sell­out per­for­mances in Mel­bourne and count­ing – took out a Help­mann Award in July. It broke the house record for the high­est-sell­ing on-sale pe­riod in the Princess The­atre’s 159-year his­tory and is ex­pected to cre­ate the same level of buzz when it hits Syd­ney next Fe­bru­ary.

IF AV­ENUE Q marked a stylis­tic sea change for mass-ap­peal mu­si­cals, The Book Of Mor­mon merely dou­bled down on Lopez’s pen­chant for punc­tur­ing holes in po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. Ahead of its de­but, Lopez, Parker and Stone girded for protests. In­stead, it be­came a big­ger hit than its pre­de­ces­sor.

Lopez ad­mits they were “all pretty stunned. Ob­vi­ously, we’re not putting [the mu­si­cal] up to of­fend any­one, but we did think we prob­a­bly wouldn’t be able to avoid it.” He has a the­ory for its suc­cess: “I’m sure just the idea of South Park had a lot to do with why peo­ple came in ex­pect­ing stuff that poked fun or crossed the line. Maybe what they weren’t ex­pect­ing is that it’s also a real mu­si­cal – with a pos­i­tive mes­sage and a good emo­tional pay-off.”

Lopez cred­its his par­ents, Frank and Kather­ine, for his drive. The same year he wrote ‘Oy Vey, What A Day!’, his fam­ily was leas­ing a New York apart­ment with a pi­ano. Want­ing to bring some cul­ture into their son’s life, Frank and Kather­ine paid for his pi­ano lessons. (He and brother Billy, a screen­writer, have col­lab­o­rated pro­fes­sion­ally and won two Day­time Em­mys to­gether.) His pi­ano teacher asked him to write songs, which he did weekly. By age 14, he had ex­panded to full-blown mu­si­cal treat­ments; he has not stopped since.

“It just never dawned on me that I should do any­thing else with my life,” Lopez says. “That of course meant I had no job plan af­ter col­lege.” Given he kick­started his craft with a push from his own par­ents, could Katie and An­nie be­come EGOT champs num­bers 13 and 14?

“We’re never try­ing to push them to be [song­writ­ers],” he tells Stel­lar. “It’s one thing when you’re be­ing en­cour­aged by your par­ents to do art like I was, and it is an­other thing when your par­ents are push­ing you to do the things they do. That prob­a­bly en­gen­ders a lot of re­bel­lion.

“That be­ing said,” he adds, “they have both writ­ten lit­tle songs and we love writ­ing songs [to­gether]. We al­ways make up lit­tle silly jin­gles. We are that fam­ily.” The Book Of Mor­mon is now play­ing at the Princess The­atre Mel­bourne, and from Fe­bru­ary 2018 at the Syd­ney Lyric The­atre; bookof­mor­mon­mu­si­cal.com.au.

“‘Let It Go’ was not writ­ten to ter­rorise any­one!”

ICE AGE Song­writ­ers Robert Lopez and wife Kris­ten An­der­son­Lopez with their 2015 Grammy Awards for ‘Let It Go’, which fea­tured in Dis­ney’s Frozen.

HIGH NOTES (from top) Robert Lopez (cen­tre) at the 2011 Tony Awards with South Park’s Trey Parker (left) and Matt Stone; with wife Kris­ten and daugh­ters An­nie (left) and Katie at the Frozen pre­miere in LA; global hit The Book Of Mor­mon; Ben Durocher in Av­enue Q.

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