For Robert Lopez, the road to EGOT was paved at ‘Avenue Q’

A FilAm who is proud of his toots

A FilAm who is proud of his roots

By Wendell Gaa

After getting together with a few friends at a restaurant bar for a viewing of one of our favorite TV shows “The Walking Dead,” a couple of us decided to stay behind and switch the channel to see the rest of The Oscars ceremony.

To our amazement, many of the night’s major awards were yet to be handed out, and we were fortunate that one of those award handouts which we got to witness included the Best Original Song, which capped off an already stellar career of Robert Lopez, who has now officially joined the elite EGOT club, the only 12 people in the world who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award. Lopez has taken a step further himself by now being the only person to win all four within a decade!

Lopez being a FilAm and one who acknowledges his roots is surely someone we can all be proud of, and looking back on his professional career, he surely deserves his promotion to the EGOT circle. He has won Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction and Composition on the animated TV series “The Wonder Pets.” I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he was one of the co-creators of the Broadway musicals “Avenue Q” and “The Book of Mormon,” for which he has won Tony Awards. His work on “The Book of Mormon” has also earned him a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. I have seen both productions and they were every bit as entertaining as they were hysterical.

I had one memorable moment after watching “Avenue Q” (which in a nutshell is an adult-themed puppet musical version of “Sesame Street”) at the New World Stage Theaters here in Manhattan with a friend a couple years ago, and we had the honor to personally meet and congratulate FilAm Broadway actress Hazel Anne Raymundo, who portrayed the character Christmas Eve. We commended Hazel for her awesome and funny performance as Christmas Eve, and the brilliant songs (“It Sucks to Be Me”/”Schadenfreude”) of the entire production was in no small part at all due to the creative work of Robert Lopez.

The soundtrack and performances of “Avenue Q” is a marvelous combination of humor and masterful puppetry that indeed demands songs which could tackle and lampoon the issues and apprehension of entering adulthood, much how “Sesame Street” teaches young kids the “A-B-C’s” and “1-2-3’s” in life, albeit in a very adult-themed manner to the point where parents are advised not to bring along their toddlers to see the show. In spite of the challenge of putting together such a unique production, the songs and the puppet performances here work ingeniously well, and this is just one example of Lopez’s Broadway songwriting talent, the other being “The Book of Mormon.”

I finally got to see that show last summer, and I can only say that Lopez venturing with the creators of the popular animated series “South Park,” Matt Stone and Trey Parker, has yielded yet another gleaming musical satire. The story of young religious Mormon missionary boys traveling to Uganda in an attempt to win “new converts” to their side, while experiencing some minor and major mishaps along the way, simply kept me laughing throughout the show, while musing over its underlying issues of sobriety, such as war, famine, poverty, AIDS and religious and social division. I applaud Lopez’s joint efforts here with Stone and Parker, both of whom have done exceptional Broadway work in spite of their reputation for the occasional crudeness with their “South Park” characters.

If Lopez had shown off his talent for adult humor in his songs for those two musicals, then his work on “The Wonder Pets” and “Frozen” no doubt reveals his talent for family-friendly music and overall versatility.

By now, most if not all of us have watched “Frozen,” Disney’s smash hit loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale “The Snow Queen.” We are now very familiar with the story of Princess Anna embarking on an epic quest to find her sister Princess Elsa who has inadvertently covered their entire kingdom in snow using her magical powers, which has touched us all in such a way that no Disney animated film has done since “The Lion King.” Hardly a day goes by where I don’t hear Elsa’s now legendary song “Let It Go” being played on TV, radio and YouTube, and chances are, you’ve probably heard young girls walking along the streets hum that song repetitively.

As I watched performer Idina Menzel deliver that song with such grace and gusto at the Oscars, and later seeing Lopez win his award together with his wife Kristen, I just knew that it was a moment of shining pride and honor for the entire Filipino American community.

I would be most honored if I could personally get to meet Lopez someday, and knowing that the 39-year old was actually born in Greenwich Village, New York, it is little wonder that he comes across as that “guy from the neighborhood.”

Word has it that the next project that he and his wife are now working on is a new musical called “Up Here,” which in his words is “kind of like Annie Hall meets Cirque du Soleil…a romantic comedy with a huge theatrical twist.” Sounds exciting? I most definitely think so!

Our heartfelt congratulations to Robert Lopez for spreading the good name of FilAm talent to Hollywood, Broadway and beyond, and if his Oscar is a career milestone, then we can only anticipate with much excitement on what more he has to offer in the coming years.

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