Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez Relive the Musicals of Their 20s
The Oscar-winning songwriting couple behind Frozen discusses a season of taking fresh looks at old projects.
Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez are a wife-and-husband song-writing team best known for a little musical film from Disney called Frozen. But the pair's eclectic artistic taste extends far beyond that beloved cartoon (and its ubiquitous ballad "Let It Go"). Robert's résumé includes raunchy Broadway hits Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon while Kristen's features the Walt Disney World production of Finding Nemo – The Musical. Together the couple has recently collaborated on the romantic stage musical Up Here.
This season, in a twist of fate, Kristen and Robert are going their separate professional ways once again, each returning to a show from much earlier in their career. More than a decade ago, Robert cowrote a kids' musical version of the classic tale about love and storytelling 1001 Nights, now playing at the Atlantic, and Kristen coauthored the a cappella subway musical In Transit, which is set to premiere on Broadway.
"I'd love to check the stars to see if there's some sort of Saturn returning or something because definitely we were both doing this about the same time [back then]," Kristen told TheaterMania. "And here we are [again] eighteen and sixteen years later."
At what point in your lives and careers were you writing these shows?
Robert: I was getting over a bad breakup, and I put a lot of feelings from that into it. And I kind of feel like I had gotten them out and I was ready to meet someone.
Kristen: When I met him, he very much was like, I don't want to be a friend, from the very beginning. Like, if you're going to put me in the "friends" category, let's just not do this. Was I late to our first date?
Robert: Yeah I think you might have been like two hours late, but you called the bar.
Kristen: They didn't have cellphones! I was up in Washington Heights and I had left my audition book up there, and I had an audition the next day or something. It was something that I could not leave.
Robert: And I had nothing else to do, so I waited at the bar.
Kristen: He had a yellow pad and was coming up with ideas for Avenue Q. And then we kissed on like the first date! We kissed in front of the Flatiron Building.
Do you see these pieces as a time capsule from a very different place in your lives?
Kristen: I think what connects my show to his, more than just being something we started a long time ago, is that he was working with a dear old friend someone he had met in his twenties who really helped him find his feet in New York City.
Robert: I met my collaborator Adam Koplan when we were both interns at Playwrights Horizons.
Kristen: And my show is written with three of my best friends now — Sara Wordsworth, James-Allen Ford, Russell Kaplan. We were an a cappella group when I was in my twenties. Really all of us were at a place where we were kind of trying to get somewhere, desperate to get somewhere, and not getting anywhere. And we found each other and created that kind of family that helps New York become a home.
Did Frozen open doors for you professionally?
Kristen: That's a good question. Statistically it is very hard for females in our business, female writers and female directors. They did a study. It was the same percentage of female writers who had a production in New York in 2011 as what it was in 1911. There's an institutional bias that goes deep. Women tend to be given jobs based on their experience, and men tend to be given jobs based on their potential. So you have to have experience to have someone take that chance on you, and Frozen doing as well as it did, I think is what allowed me the opportunity. This is my Broadway debut. People think I've been on Broadway already. I haven't. Because it's so hard to break the glass ceiling for female writers in particular.
Robert: Yeah, not to dis Broadway at all, but I think L.A. is a little more evolved when it comes to trusting [women].
Kristen: Also, once we started working with Disney, we really got to learn a lot from how Disney works. The braintrust really informed my ability to look at everything and never hold anything precious. It's not about what you did and what he did and what she did. With In Transit, we operate in a very similar way of best joke wins, best line wins. It doesn't matter who comes up with it. And I think seeing that modeled so beautifully and at such a high level with Disney and Pixar has really given us confidence in that process as well. Saying, well, let it go — literally — when something becomes about, "I did this!"
What's it like to be taking a break from collaborating with each other?
Robert: It's funny, we almost never have any time to do anything other than the project we are focusing on together. But because of In Transit, I had time to write a new song [for 1001 Nights], and I've had time to do a couple of different little one-off songs — for Mystery Science Theater, I did a week of South Park. I've been able to reconnect with my solo writing past.
Kristen: But I came in and consulted on the opening number of [1001 Nights]. I took an afternoon and we worked on the opening of this show. And Bobby certainly has been a secret sounding board of everything that I've written for In Transit.
Robert: That's how it works. I mean that's how marriages work.
Kristen: I think that we come back fueled up too. Working with other people also reminds you of how much fun you have with your husband.
What's the best part of returning to 1001 Nights and In Transit?
Robert: The thing that's been the most emotional about this for me is bringing our two daughters to see it and watching them just be as enthralled with it. It just means so much more now seeing them engage with it and singing the songs. And Adam also has kids now, too. It's just really weird to see our kids watching the show we wrote for kids when we were kids.
Kristen: By the same token, writing a show about New Yorkers trying to get somewhere when you're twenty vs when you're forty-something, you have much broader view. You're able to tap into a much broader understanding of you're never going to feel like you've gotten somewhere, whether you win an Oscar or you own a townhome. There's always someplace to go.