By Donna Herman
The stars were twinkling brighter and more plentiful on stage than in the sky on Saturday night in The Appel Room. The star-studded event, American Songbook: An Evening with Kristen and Bobby Lopez, closed the 2017 season in that venue. Lopez? I’ll give you a hint, What do the Disney movie Frozen, and the Broadway musicals The Book of Mormon, Avenue Q, and In Transit have in common? That’s right, one or both of the husband and wife team wrote the songs And Bobby is one of 12 people in history who is an “EGOT” – the recipient of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.
So, though you may not know their names, because they’re a low-key couple with two kids who don’t show up on the talk show circuit, you know their music. They started out the evening by telling us “We never do this.” “This,” being concerts. And they whipped out some index cards and told us why:
“We don’t like being judged”
“We’re waiting to get thinner”
“We didn’t know what to wear”
“We’re waiting to get the Xanax prescription refilled” (“We took care of that.” “Oh yeah”)
“We’re afraid people won’t like us.”
“We wanted to start small….”
They really never do this – it was their first-ever concert. They’re songwriters, not performers, but they needn’t have worried. The combination of their charm, sincerity, and relatable songs, not to mention fabulous friends, won the hearts of everyone within hearing. They used the evening to tell us who they were and how they met – at a BMI songwriters workshop. It’s clear they already had the one thing a songwriter can’t do without – the willingness to be vulnerable. Like actors and playwrights, songwriters have to be able to open themselves up and lay their hearts and souls out for all to see in order to communicate successfully. It has to come from the heart, and it has to be truthful. Bobby and Kristen have that in spades.
The musical portion of the evening started out with Bobby and the Ensemble singing the title song from their 2015 musical Up Here, for which they not only wrote the music and lyrics, but the book as well. The story centers around Dan, a computer repairman, and his relationship with Lindsey, a t-shirt designer, and much of the action takes place in Dan’s head: I am a guy/My name is Dan/I help people with their computers/I’m five foot ten/I have brown eyes/190 pounds/Okay 200/I am thirsty/I am hungry/I am lonely/I’m feeling a little bit cold. Which was followed by Kristen singing a Lindsey song from Up Here “Please Like Me:” Please like me/I want you to like me/It’s not that I’m needy/I just need to know you care.
After they brought out their daughters Annie & Katie and Gizel Jiminez to sing the three ages of Anna in “Do You Want To Build A Snowman” from Frozen, the Lopez’ moved from animation to puppets. They brought out Avenue Q original cast members Rick Lyon and Stephanie D’Abruzzo, with their puppets, to do “Tear It Up And Throw It Away.” Later on they were joined by fellow original cast mate, John Tartaglia and his puppet to do “Wish I Could Go Back To College.” And eventually the three of them were joined by Ann Harada to sing “Only For Now.”
Tony nominated Jonathan Groff (Spring Awakening, Hamilton, and the voice of Kristoff in Frozen, Glee) and Betsy Wolfe (Up Here, The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Bullets Over Broadway), sang the charming “I Feel Like I’ve Always Known You” from Up Here. Which, we learned, Bobby wrote the night they met. Then those pesky Disney disclosures popped up. Betsy Wolfe sang the hell out of a tremendous song “No Other Love,” about the wife of an artist telling her husband to go out and see if he can find fulfillment somewhere else. But they couldn’t tell us what the project was because it’s still being developed. Rats.
Jonathan Groff’s next duet “Love Is An Open Door” was from Frozen, and joining him was Andrew Rannells, the original Elder Price from Book of Mormon. The two friends belted the song out as if they had been singing it together for years and ended it with a kiss to wild applause from the audience.
Following songs from Kristen Lopez’ acapella musical In Transit sung by cast member Moya Angela and co-writer Sara Wordsworth, Bobby Lopez invited Mormon co-creator Trey Stone (South Park), who never sings in public, but clearly loves to ham it up and has a surprisingly good voice, to sing the Elder Price and Elder Cunningham duet “You and Me (But Mostly Me)” from Mormon. They were quickly joined by the actors who originated the roles, Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad, who had literally gotten off a plane from Australia and come right to the theater. Looking a little scruffy, but in fine voice, Mr. Gad enthusiastically jumped in and the quartet finished the song to thunderous applause. Gad stayed and sang an extra song that hadn’t been planned from Frozen, in which he voiced the snowman, Olaf, “In Summer.”
For the final number, all the evening’s performers got on stage and sang the Academy and Grammy Award-winning “Let It Go.” The audience gave them a standing ovation and would not let them leave the stage. For their final number, Bobby and Kristen sang us a song they wrote on the night their first daughter was born. Bobby had gone home to shower and change after she was born while Kristen was sleeping and he composed a little melody. When he got back to the hospital, he played it for Kristen and she wrote lyrics to it. They call it their benediction and they sing it to their daughters every night before bed. And they sang it to us to end the show. I’m verklempt.
American Songbook: An Evening With Kristen and Bobby Lopez, Brian Usifer, Musical Director, Gordon Greenberg, Director
WITH: Bobby Lopez (Vocals & Piano); Kristen Lopez (Vocals); Annie Lopez (Vocals); Katie Lopez (Vocals); Moya Angela (Vocals); Stephanie D’Abruzzo (Vocals); James-Allen Ford (Vocals); Josh Gad (Vocals); Jonathan Groff (Vocals); Ann Harada (Vocals); Gizel Jimenez (Vocals); Russ Kaplan (Vocals); Mykal Kilgore (Vocals); Rick Lyon (Vocals); Trey Parker (Vocals); David Plimpton (Vocals); Andrew Rannells (Vocals); Graham Stevens (Vocals); John Tartaglia (Vocals); Betsy Wolfe (Vocals); Brian Usifer (Piano); Entcho Todorov (Concertmaster and Violin); Emily Bruskin Yarbrough IViolin); Allison Seidner (Cello); Marc Phaneuf (Reeds); Jake Ezra Schwartz (Guitar); Dave Phllips (Bass); Sean McDaniel (Drums)
For American Songbook: Lighting Design by Matt Berman; Sound Design by Scott Stauffer; Wardrbe Assistant, Angela M. Fludd; Company Manager, Janet Rucker; Jane Moss, Artistic Director Programming Dept.; Jon Nakagawa, Director of Contemporary Programming; Charles Ceremele, Producer of Contemporary Programming.
For An Evening with Kristen and Bobby Lopez: Stage Manager, Justin Scribner; Line Producer, Tavia Grace Odinak.