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Fil-Am composer wins Oscars’ best song for Frozen’s ‘Let It Go’

By: - Columnist

Kristen Anderson-Lopez, left, and Robert Lopez accept the award for an original song in a feature film for “Let It Go” from “Frozen” during the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday, March 2, 2014, in Los Angeles. AP

LOS ANGELES — Filipino-American composer Robert Lopez made history on Sunday evening at the 86th Academy Awards when he and his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, won the best song award for “Let It Go,” the worldwide phenomenon from the huge animated feature hit, “Frozen.”

Robert is the first Fil-Am to win an Oscar award and to join an elite group who had won four top entertainment awards called “Egot”—Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.

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The circle of only 12 individuals who have won these top awards includes such legends as Audrey Hepburn, Richard Rodgers, Helen Hayes, Rita Moreno, Mel Brooks and John Gielgud.

In Sunday’s ceremonies, the couple bested songs by U2, Pharrell Williams, Karen O and Spike Jonze.

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“Pinoy pride!” Robert told the Philippine Daily Inquirer backstage at the Dolby Theatre when asked for his thoughts on his historic Academy Awards win. “I’m so excited. I’m just sending love to the Philippines. I know they’ve had a tough year…”

“We are doing a concert for the Philippines,” Kristen said. “I believe it’s March 12th in New York City. A benefit [concert], and [we will] probably be singing something from ‘Frozen.’”

The award-winning co-creator of “The Book of Mormon” and “Avenue Q” credited his “amazingly talented collaborators,” including his wife, “who has been in the background all of my work.”

“We both perform all the songs that we write,” Kristen said, explaining their process in writing songs, including songs they made for “Frozen,” which also won best animated feature on Sunday night.

“We create a demo in our tiny little studio, and then we play them for the directors (Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee) and John Lasseter (Disney’s chief creative officer). John played the demo that had me singing ‘Let It Go’ in his car for months and months,” she said.

On their idea for their winning song, which Idina Menzel sang in the telecast, Robert said, “We really thought of our kids when we were writing. We have two girls, just like Elsa and Anna (the two female lead characters in ‘Frozen’), and we wanted to write a song that would instill in them the idea that shame and fear should not prevent them from being the magical people that they really are.”

On “Let It Go” and the other songs from the “Frozen” soundtrack becoming part of the studio’s impressive collection of movie theme songs, Kristen said, “You don’t really comprehend something like that. We wrote this song to tell a story. And we love musical stories, and you don’t imagine that it will spread this far. But every single day on my Facebook or on my Twitter, I get some kind of testimonial from somebody who says ‘this song kept me from committing suicide,’ or ‘this song got me through the cancer treatment for my kids’ and that is just so meaningful to us that our song can go and give hugs to people like that.”

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In their acceptance remarks onstage, the couple sang a portion of their thanks to Lasseter to the tune of the birthday song and their wish for a sequel, “Happy Oscars to you. Let’s do ‘Frozen 2.’”

“Frozen” also scored a victory at the box office over the weekend by passing $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales.

Kristen dedicated the Oscar win to daughters Katie and Annie.

Robert, whose father was part-Filipino (his grandpa was pure Filipino; his grandma, Filipino and Scottish-American), has clinched two Daytime Emmys for his music and composition in “The Wonder Pets,” a musical theater album Grammy for “The Book of Mormon: Original Broadway Cast Recording” and two original score Tonys for “Avenue Q” and “The Book of Mormon.”

Disney is adapting “Frozen” to the Broadway stage. “We are very excited to get started on the stage version,” Robert said. “It will, by necessity, have more songs than the movie, so we can’t wait to reimagine it.”

In the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s earlier talk with Robert in New York, he traced his Filipino roots. “My story is interesting because my father (Frank), who was part-Filipino, was born on a ship on the way to the United States from Manila.” It was reportedly the last GI boat that left Manila right after World War II.

“His father’s certificate had longitude and latitude on it, not a place but a spot in the ocean,” offered Kristen, who wrote with Robert, Zooey Deschanel and Henry Jackman the Annie Award-nominated songs for the film, “Winnie the Pooh.”

“It must have been a crazy trip for my grandmother,” Robert, a Yale alumnus, added about the voyage. “She had a 2-year-old, too,” Kristen volunteered about Robert’s grandmother.

Robert added, “It’s a long story—she had divorced her husband and was trying to meet her father.”

“It was an epic story that would really tie into ‘Let It Go’ a little bit,” Kristen said, referring to their powerful anthem. “It was like leaving her past behind and going toward a place where she could use her power … ‘Let It Go,’ which we wrote in a day … became the cornerstone of the movie.”

When the Philippine Daily Inquirer asked Kristen if there was a Filipino side to Robert that she found particularly charming or endearing, she smiled and said, a bit coquettishly, “Oh my gosh, don’t get me started on his sexy Filipino…” Pause. Then she said, “What is wonderful about Bobby is, because he’s part-Filipino, he’s always been trying to figure out who he is, what his place is. That’s where his art comes from. He’s attracted to characters who aren’t sure where they belong. That’s a wonderful place to create art from, I think.”

Robert said about his grandmother, “She was a spark plug, a firecracker.” Kristen added, “She passed during this process [of composing for ‘Frozen’].” “Yes, it was a sad moment,” Robert said. “We had to stop work. We went up and stayed for the funeral. She was a wonderful woman.”

Robert missed a chance to go to the Philippines for the first time when his “Avenue Q” premiered in Manila. “I never got to see it there,” he said. “At the time that the show was being done in the Philippines, we had our second daughter.”

Robert tries to keep connected to the Filipino-American community, especially in New York, where he and Kristen live.

“I’ve had a lot of connection with the Filipino-American organizations in New York,” he said.

“I’m connected with the artistic community. It’s a musical culture. I feel like there’s got to be something in there that came to me, even though neither my mom (Katherine) nor my dad are particularly musical. But I have so many Filipino friends who are amazing singers, writers and composers.”

Among the Filipino performers, Robert cited his fellow Tony awardee. “I know Lea Salonga,” he said. “And Hazel Anne Raymundo,” said Kristen of the Fil-Am actress who appeared in “Avenue Q.”

The couple, who also collaborated on “Finding Nemo: The Musical,” a live show on its eighth year at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, recounted how they met. “It’s funny,” Robert began. “Alan Menken and Howard Ashman met in the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop, which is for aspiring songwriters—where you can learn your craft and try out songs for an audience. That’s where we met, too, and started dating.”

Kristen, a Williams College alumna, offered the more interesting version of their first encounter. “He was actually doing his first song for ‘Avenue Q’ in a concert (during the workshop),” she said with a grin. “He had gotten hurt. He’d been bitten by the dog of (his ‘Avenue Q’) songwriter-partner Jeff Marx’s boyfriend. So he couldn’t play. He was wearing a red yarn wig. He came out and sang a song called, ‘Tear It Up and Throw It Away.’”

The couple is set to premiere “Up Here,” their new musical, in summer 2014. Fresh from his acclaimed production of “Here Lies Love,” David Byrne’s musical on Imelda Marcos, Alex Timbers will direct the show, which Robert once described as “kind of like ‘Annie Hall’ meets Cirque du Soleil.” With Kristine Sabillo, INQUIRER.net

Originally posted at 12:17 pm | Monday, March 3, 2014

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TAGS: Academy Awards, Awards, Best Song, cinema, Entertainment, Hollywood, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Let It Go, Movies, Oscars, Oscars 2014, Robert Lopez
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