This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth talks to Frozen 2 creators Kristen and Bobby Lopez plus stories from star Idina Menzel!
At Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM radio show, I sat down with married couple and writing team Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez whose new film Frozen 2 is doing fabulously! They met at BMI, the writing workshop, and Bobby immediately asked her out. Kristen had a teaching fellowship in the Bronx where she would write musicals with students and he was temping and working at TheaterWorks USA. Money was tight. Bobby had some money from winning the Ed Kleban Prize, but, as Kristen pointed out, he had to split it with three people. To make money more scarce, he wound up quitting all his other work so he could basically watch children’s television during the day and work on Avenue Q, which he was writing with Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty.
The reason I bring up the lack of money is, Bobby felt he could only propose to Kristen if he knew he could support a family. I told him he puts way too much pressure on himself, and immediately analyzed him and concluded it was because of his Asian upbringing. I told him about my ex-boyfriend Aaron, who is Chinese-American. In high school, Aaron would tell his mom that he got a 98 on an exam and she’d say “What happened to the other two points?” Bobby immediately told me that after every grade he reported to his mom, she would reply “What did Debbie get?” I asked who “Debbie” was, and Bobby said she was a smart kid in his class and apparently the standard-bearer for good grades. I want to get Bobby a necklace that says “What Would Jesus Do?” and refashion it into “What Did Debbie Get?”
Back to financial security: On opening night of Avenue Q Off-Broadway (before it went to Broadway), the producers got everyone a ring that had a Q on it. Interestingly, it didn’t have to be special made, it was from the Transit museum (the Q train!). Anyhoo, after the opening night (when the show got rave reviews), Bobby was confident things were going to work out financially so he got down on one knee, presented Kristen with a diamond engagement ring and brought out her family, whom he had flown in, to surprise her! Just kidding.
What actually happened was, they got in a cab and, in the back seat, Bobby put the Q train ring on her finger and asked her to marry him. She said “Sure.” They chatted for awhile about lots of things and then started to cross the bridge into Queens where they lived. Bobby asked Kristen if they should tell people.
She replied, “Tell people what?”
He then replied, “That we’re getting married.”
“What?” Kristen yelled “That was the proposal!?!?! In the back of a cab?!?!”
When I asked Bobby what he was thinking, he admitted that he was not a very romantic person because he didn’t have romantic behavior modeled for him. Kristen said that Bobby has indeed worked on himself and he actually recently re-proposed to her, this time at a Swiss Chalet restaurant in Switzerland! Of course, Kristen said that looking back, the cab proposal really was the best one.
When he was writing Avenue Q and she was working in the Bronx, they never saw each other, so they started writing together as a way to spend time together. They wrote songs for Bear in the Big Blue House on Nick Jr., then the theme park version of Finding Nemo, then the film Winnie The Pooh, and then Disney asked them to write a princess film. They were shown a photo of two sisters: the older one was throwing snow and the younger one was looking at her like she was a hero. Immediately Kristen thought, “I know that!” She has two daughters and she herself is an older sister. They wrote the film on video conference every day with the story team in Burbank, but every time the story changed they’d have to get rid of a song. For the first Frozen , they wrote 27 songs and seven-and-a-half stayed. Wowza!!!
Kristen said they did better on the second film, they wrote 14 and seven stayed. I love how belty the film is and Bobby and Kristen said that Idina Menzel, who voices Elsa, always takes keys up. They wrote “Let It Go” in G major and she asked to take it up to Ab. Brava!!! Speaking of Idina, she came on Seth Speaks later on. Boy, she is so fun! She told me that ever since the “Adele Dazeem” mispronounciation at the Oscars, people are extra careful with her name. They’re always coming up to her before they have to announce and carefully clarifying how to say her name. Well, not last week. She was rehearsing the tree lighting TV show and someone who worked on the TV show read the teleprompter to introduce her. How did they announce her? Idina said they literally introduced her as “Edna Mendez.” What’s happening!?!? (Luckily, Mario Lopez got it right on the actual broadcast.)
She performed from her Christmas album, where she does a duet with Billy Porter, and I was saying how happy I am that they’re so successful, after he started out as an ensemble member (Miss Saigon) and understudy (Five Guys Named Moe) and she began as a singing waitress on The Spirit Of New York, a boat that sailed around Manhattan for brunch. Idina told me that she thinks it’s better it happened later in their careers. She clarified that she did have success in her 20s, but then she got dropped from her record label and then couldn’t get a job…. but then she got Wicked and won the Tony Award…but then she went to a whole new level of success after Frozen. It’s like Billy Porter, starring on Broadway in Grease in his 20s, but then not originating a role for so long, then winning the Tony Award for Kinky Boots…but it’s Pose that’s now brought him world-wide fame!
P.S. Idina said it was her ex-husband, Taye Diggs, who introduced her to Billy’s singing, telling her he’s one of the best singers ever. The song he played for her was Billy singing the theme to First Wives Club.
Idina picked “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” to sing with Billy on her new Christmas album. Billy definitely changed what Idina thought it would be. First, they had to totally raise the key they thought he’d sing it in. Idina said he’s basically singing in her key! After she recorded her solos in the song, she listened to his solo section and she loved his style/riffs that she went back and re-recorded her part to make it match his! Listen to how fabulous they sound!
P.S. She’s coming to Carnegie Hall this month!
Here’s a little throwback: This is my column that’s in my book Onstage and Backstage about me coaching Idina to sing for Barbra!
A few weeks ago, Idina Menzel emailed me and asked if I still coached because she needed me. I had no problem coaching her, but I had a problem with her other request: keeping it a secret! She was getting ready to sing “Don’t Rain On My Parade” for the Kennedy Center salute to Barbra Streisand and had been sworn to keep it under wraps. It was so frustrating for me not to reveal everything as it unfolded, but I kept my trap shut. She worked hard doing research, listening to so many different versions of Barbra doing it so she could do a proper homage. Finally, we picked what parts would be a tip o’ the hat to Barbra (like speaking “It’s me and not you!”) and what would be her own (right before the bridge she changed the melody to go up to an E on “Who told you you’re allowed to rain on my parade!”). Plus, since Idina did my Actors’ Fund concert of Funny Girl, she remembered how amazing Lillias White’s version was of the song so we added a tip o’ the hat to Lillias’ version (going up a minor third on the word “know” in “Get what I want, I know how”). Finally, I couldn’t keep how amazing Idina sounded a total secret so I had her sing it for James in our apartment (who loved it). Then I called my sister Nancy in Virginia, put the phone on the kitchen table and had Idina sing it for her! Nancy went crazy after the song was over, and it actually helped Idina because it made her a little nervous so she could get used to how that felt. I was so proud of Idina when I watched the airing of the show last week. I warned her that the camera was going to cut to Barbra’s reaction, which would run the gamut from staring to glaring. I was essentially right, but in reality, how is somebody supposed to look when they’re watching a song being sung? I think people wanted Barbra to be smiling the whole time while muttering to James Brolin, “She sounds great!” What do most of us look like when we’re listening? Do we have a smile plastered to our face the whole time? Isn’t that crazy-looking? The only reaction the Kennedy Center should be showing is the one after the number. Regardless, here’s the video where you can hear how amazing Idina sounds and observe a Kennedy Center honoree’s face at rest: