To create their new series, the team behind the Up Here crafted what they call a ‘university.’
“We just got sort of inspired by the feeling of making a musical, [so we had] these three rooms where there’s always something different going on which was to let us all be in constant communication,” explains executive producer and director Thomas Kail.
He describes a bustling building with two floors in which the choreographer, lyricists, and actors would hastily move back and forth between rooms. “That’s where the intersection of ideas [happened].”
Laughing, he adds, “So we had a lot of fun, and we’re expecting enrollment to really double next year at Up Here University.”
Set in 1999, the series is a musical romantic comedy tells the extraordinary story of one ordinary couple as they fall in love and discover that the single greatest obstacle to finding happiness together might just be the voices in their heads that constantly evoke memories, obsessions, fears and fantasies. The series stars Mae Whitman and Carlos Valdez.
Written by Robert Lopez (The Book of Mormon) and Kristin Anderson-Lopez (Frozen), Lopez says that he, “Wanted to tell a contemporary story about ordinary people. So, I thought, ‘Well, what if you did a musical inside someone’s head? There’s a lot of emotion and yearning going on in everyone’s head that you never get to see. What about a show like that?’”
Anderson-Lopez adds, “And the one thing that really makes that music [in your head] loud is finding your soulmate. There’s this [quote from author] Elizabeth Gilbert that, ‘we all want to find our soulmate, and when we finally do, they’re the person that holds a mirror up to us and makes us actually see ourselves.’”
The thought behind setting the narrative nearly 25 years ago, as explained by executive producer Danielle Sanchez-Witzel, is that, “things were just different then. You really had to make an effort to meet people, to get to know people, even to meet up at the same place with people. We weren’t just texting each other. Those of us that are old enough remember talking on the phone until two and three o’clock in the morning with someone you were interested in dating, that stuff doesn’t happen anymore.”
Speaking about the combination of writing the story and creating the music, showrunner Steven Levenson remarks, “One of the biggest misconceptions people have about musicals is that somehow the two things are separate. One of our big goals from the beginning was to create a musical on TV that was like a musical onstage in that the story and the songs would work together.”
He says that the team used a technique to ensure the music was integral to the story. “Early on, that the goal was if we removed the songs from the episode, the episode wouldn’t work.”
To make that happen, Levenson says the process they used was, “in the writers’ room, we would break stories and once we had something of a skeleton, we would bring Bobby and Kristen in and say, ‘Here’s what we’re thinking. These are some spots that we thought there might be songs,’ and then they would say, ‘No, actually, we think the song would go here,’ which then would adjust the story.”
To that end, instead of eight episodes of television, the team imagined the series as eight “mini musicals that would add up to one season‑long musical,” says Levenson. “So, we really tried to feel like we’re telling a story with the music that has a beginning, middle, and an end.”
Anderson-Lopez says that all of the work that went into crafting Up Here is worth it because, “We really wanted to [show people how to] turn to the people they love and say, ‘What’s the voice in your head?’ And to give people this language, to understand each other better.”
‘Up Here’ premieres Friday, March 24th on Hulu.