You’ve just begun a new relationship. Things are going swell when, inevitably, those negative voices in your head, the ones waging war with the “Attaboy!” or “Attagirl!”, start causing trouble. Hello, doubts. Now turn those voices, both defeatist and supportive, into real, live figures with big personalities. They’ll drive you crazy and turn your budding hook-up into a carnival ride.
This is the premise of Up Here, a world-premiere musical by husband-and-wife composers Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the duo that created the Disney smash “Frozen.” (Robert Lopez also has the irreverent stage hits Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon on his resume.) But Broadway and Hollywood credentials and a clever premise aren’t enough to elevate Up Here, directed at La Jolla Playhouse by Alex Timbers, who has some credentials of his own, like Peter and the Starcatcher. Up Here (the title refers to the thoughts-filled head of the story’s protagonist, a computer fix-it nerd named Dan), like so many relationships, has issues.
The tale of Dan (Matt Bittner) and T-shirt designer Lindsay (Betsy Wolfe) is pleasant enough, but the lovers are thoroughly upstaged by the wondrously costumed (by Ann Closs-Farley) ensemble acting out the conflicting thoughts in Dan’s geeky noggin. The secondary story about Lindsay’s odd-duck brother (Eric Peterson) and his own troubled romance feels thrown in. But no more so than a recurring “significant” bit about a rock, continental tectonics and (clear throat here) oneness with the universe and self, narrated by a beaming child actor. Yeah, it crystallizes at the end of the show, but it only contributes to the muddle,
The humor of the first act dissipates in Act 2, which includes a shuddering disco sequence with “Danny Dog” and some costumed canines, a batty number at a Best Buy service counter, a couple of cloying power ballads, and a resolution featuring that aforementioned rock that conveniently liberates Dan from his demons “up there.” For all its spicy language and implied, under-the-blankets humping, Up Here is practically a Disney-fied affair. Now if the ensemble billed as “Dan’s Consciousness” got a show of its own, you’d have something truly audacious, and you wouldn’t need Dan or the rock.
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat