Kristen Anderson-Lopez (left) and Robert Lopez (right) stand together in front of a piano and drums on the set of Up Here. They are dressed casually and smiling.

Behind the Music of Hulu’s Up Here

By Zach Johnson

“Do you ever look at someone and wonder, ‘What is going inside their head?’”

That line is from Disney and Pixar’s Inside Out (2015), but it could have just as easily been said in Hulu’s Up Here—a new musical romantic comedy starring Mae Whitman and Carlos Valdes, premiering with all eight episodes on Friday, March 24. Featuring original songs by the Emmy®-, Grammy®-, and Oscar®-winning team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the series is inspired by their 2015 stage musical of the same name. Set in New York City in the waning days of 1999, the series—intended for mature audiences—follows two ordinary people, Lindsay (Whitman) and Miguel (Valdes), as they fall in love and discover that the biggest obstacle to happily ever after just might be themselves. (Well, that and the fantasies, fears, memories, and obsessions living inside their heads.)

In a scene from Up Here, Lindsay, played by Mae Whitman, performs onstage.

In revisiting the songs for streaming, Lopez tells D23: The Official Disney Fan Club, “Almost none of the original stage musical survives.” Instead, it served as a “jumping off point” to create something new with writers Steven Levenson and Danielle Sanchez-Witzel and director Thomas Kail. “There was a lot of inspiration, and the concept and the theme are very similar. For example, in the stage musical, we only ever went into the male character’s mind; we didn’t see to into the female character’s. And, honestly, the characters are different, the names are different, and most of the music is different. The consciousness characters were fantastical. [Editor’s note: They were puppets onstage.] They were embodiments of fear and pain and anger. One of Steven’s amazing and brilliant contributions was to ask, ‘What if these consciousness characters are actual people and memories from Miguel and Lindsay’s pasts?’ Immediately, we threw out everything we’d written for the consciousness characters.” Now, guest stars like Scott Porter bring to life the voices in the lead characters’ heads.

According to Lopez, “a few themes” from the stage musical remain. “The theme of ‘Can I Ever Know You?’ was from the original, but the song was written anew for Hulu,” he explains. “We discovered a lot by collaborating with Danielle, Tommy, and Steven.”

In a scene from Up Here, Miguel, played by Carlos Valdes, is part of a cabaret performance. He is surrounded by seven dancers and appears to be stressed.

Another song, “Please Like Me,” had been cut from the original stage musical, only to be rewritten for the series years later. “The wonderful thing about time is that it helps you have this great perspective,” Anderson-Lopez says. “When we were looking at rewriting a lot of it right after we opened in La Jolla in 2015, we couldn’t even wrap our minds around it. We were far too close; we had put too much of ourselves in it. And then we went on to do Frozen on Broadway, Frozen 2, Coco, and WandaVision—all these things. It was nice to be able to come back and go, ‘Oh, yeah! Remember that song? I like that song.’ The hook is the same, but almost every other lyric is rewritten for this character in this situation—and you can’t do that until you have some distance.”

In addition to songwriting, the Lopezes executive produce the series alongside Kail, Levenson, and Sanchez-Witzel. “We honestly didn’t even know what that meant,” Lopez says of their dual role, eliciting laughter from his wife. “Your first job on a TV show should probably not be executive producer! Essentially, we helped shape it and make it. What we didn’t know, we learned from Tommy and Steven, who made our favorite show, Fosse/Verdon. Danielle, a crack comedy writer with so much experience, knows what it takes to make one of these bounce along over a full season. She is incredible.”

The Up Here Original Series Soundtrack features an orange logo above Miguel, played by Carlos Valdes, and Lindsay, played by Mae Whitman, who are walking down a city street. Below them is text that reads “Original Songs by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez” in orange letters. The green Hulu logo is below it.

Given their prolific body of work, fans will no doubt want to sing along to the music of Up Here—and soon, they can! The soundtrack—available Friday, March 24, on all digital streaming platforms—features 21 original songs, including “Tiger Shark,” “You Gotta Be You,” and “The Quest,” among others. “I think my favorite is ‘I Am Not Alone,’ because it embodies what the project is about,” says Lopez. “It’s about huge feelings trapped inside. Miguel is in the bathroom, quite alone, singing a song of absolute ecstasy; that emotion is never communicated to Lindsay at all. It’s such a great dramatic moment that you couldn’t do any other way, really, except through song. The idea of going inside people’s brains is funny, and so I really love the tune.”

After initially calling it a toss-up (“I have so many that I love”), Anderson-Lopez aptly says the truth is her favorite song is “The Truth Is.” Featured in the seventh episode, “It’s Lindsay’s 11 o’clock number,” she says. “So many of us go through life people-pleasing, and that really sets you up well; if you know how to anticipate what someone is expecting and then give it to them, it’ll get you far in life. But when you fall in love with someone and you want them to really know you—and you want to know them—you have to get rid of that to sort things out. I love that the song looks at the struggle we have to define our own truth and separate that out from what other people want.”