“Up Here” the new musical by husband and wife team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (“Let it Go” from “Frozen”) making its world premiere at The La Jolla Playhouse through Sept. 6th is pretty ‘heady’.
The parade of characters that march in out of anti-hero Dan’s head, pretty much drive the lovelorn guy nuts as he sea-saws from fits of euphoria to the depths of depression in his quest to find a mate…and it’s done with such a vivid and out of this world color filled rainbow that one almost forgets that ‘Up Here’ is, when all is said and done, a boy meets girl story.
Thirty-something Dan (Matt Bittner) is an introverted computer tech/nerd type of a guy who lives inside his head with an array of characters; a near composite of his whole. They are talented and make the whole heady premise work to a T.
Fit for about three or four Cirque du Soleil shows, the galaxy includes Mr. Can Do (Devin Ratray) a friendly country bumpkin type whose job it is to keep Dan looking on the positive side, Cool Guy (Andrew Call) and Cool Girl (Gizel Jimenez) and a screaming and rage filled Maori warrior Hake (Charles South), a Humbug (Devere Rogers) and a series of judgmental and self defeating critics that make his life as miserable or happy as someone on a balancing board. (“Up Here”).
When he answers a call from another thirty-something ‘extroverted, people -pleasing T-Shirt designer gal Lindsay (Betsy Wolfe), he thinks he’s hit pay dirt especially after she offers him some ‘just made’ Rice Krispy Crunch Bars’.
There is a romance, of sorts that follows, but imagine having to drag all those voices along? And drag them he does through museums, coffee shops and amusement parks. They even have a few trysts in bed, some satisfying some not so much.
Under the deft direction of Alex Timbers and with Joshua Bergasse’s choreography, Ann Closs-Farley’s costume designs, David J. Weiner’s lighting, David Metzger’s creative set design and Michelle Zamora’s puppets, ‘Up Here’ is a winter Wonderland of mind boggling nixes and matches that will, one day have to be resolved.
Dan, somewhat of a schlep, has no concept of design and dresses in a standard plaid shirt over a number of odd T Shirts. Lindsay is a T Shirt designer (Inside Out) and that’s her standard dress.
Everything Dan does is played out in his head/mind yet we really never know what Lindsay is thinking or what’s going on in her head so the two muddle through a newish romance that, for better or worse, finds a common destination.
What we do know is that Lindsay has a brother Tim (Eric Peterson) with a few problems and shows up at her place it the most inopportune moments. He also has a girlfriend who is his former boss. They both worked at ‘Best Buy’.
Tina (Zonya Love) wants no part of him (for the moment). He has a thing about the #1 that goes on too long and even with cartoon drawings and explanations, I still don’t get. (Cut #1)
Lindsay is still smarting from a past relationship with a guy named Ed (Nick Verina) who shows up when she and Dan have words. Dan can’t believe she doesn’t know the difference between a fish and a whale. Ed’s a stock character with little depth but fits the bill momentarily
Their favorite meeting place is a huge rock that served as a romantic rendezvous. For some reason the playwrights felt the need to veer off from Dan’s head issues to coming back to the Rock and a side story about Central Park. (Cut #2).
These narrations are brought to us by a younger version of Dan as played by Giovanni Cozic.
There are about two dozen songs, none of which will resonate like “Let It Go”, but they do fit in with the themes. ‘Up Here’. ‘Don’t You Just Hate Dan?’ ‘I Have No Idea What I’m Doing’, ‘I Feel Like I’ve Always known You’, ‘I Can Never Know You’ ‘Danny Dog’ ‘The Glory of What Was’ all follow through on the right track, but nothing magical comes to mind.
Aaron Accurso and his ten-member crew and Dave Metzger’s orchestrations play well to the strengths of the leads. Both Bittner and Wolfe have strong voices and together they make better music than they do chemistry.
“Up Here” might not have the same clout as Lopez’s “Avenue Q” or “Book of Mormon” but it’s certainly serves the imagination well and will create much conversation.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Sept. 6th
Organization: The La Jolla Playhouse
Production Type: Musical
Where: 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla, CA 92037
Ticket Prices: Start at $25.00
Venue: Mandell Weiss Theatre