Aug. 12 2015 03:21 PM

La Jolla Playhouse's 'Up Here' has issues

Matt Bittner and Betsy Wolfe in 'Up Here'
Photo by Matthew Murphy

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 who 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 thoughtsfilled 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.

Up Here runs through Sept. 6 at La Jolla Playhouse. $25 and up.


The Birthday Party: Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter's comedic tale of a group of strangers at a birthday party originally premiered at the Old Globe Theatre in 1967. Presented by New Fortune Theatre Company, it opens in previews Aug. 13 at the MOXIE Theatre in Rolando. newfortunetheatre. com

Into the Woods: Various fairy tales get a new spin in this musical by Stephen Sondheim. Presented by Star Repertory Theatre, it opens Aug. 14 at the AVO Playhouse in Vista.

The Supporting Cast: George Furth's lighthearted comedy about an author who invites her friends to her beach house only to reveal to them that they're characters in her new novel. It opens Aug. 14 at Lamplighters Community Theatre in La Mesa.

The Comedy of Errors: Shakespeare's mischievous comedy about mistaken identity and longlost twins. It opens in previews Aug. 16 at the Old Globe's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park.

Hemispheres: 1940-1945 (Berkeley—Oak Ridge): A staged reading of a new play about a machinist driving cross-country during WWII to find the small town where fuel is being made for the first atomic bombs. Written by Lance Arthur Smith, it opens for two performances on Aug. 16 at the New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. 

The Art of Being Alone: A new play by Matt Thompson about a middle-aged married couple trying to reconnect. It opens for one performance on Aug. 18 at the MOXIE Theatre in Rolando.


Guys and Dolls: David R. Pearson will direct performances of this music-filled romantic comedy based on the stories of Damon Runyon. Through Aug. 16 at the Westminster Presbyterian Church Theatre in Point Loma.

Tartuffe, or The Hypocrite: Molière's 17th Century comedy about a scheming impostor attempting to ruin a French family's name. Part of the 19th annual Free Classics Series, it runs through Aug. 16 at the Coronado Playhouse.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do: A musical featuring the classic songs of Neil Sedaka about a woman left at the altar, but who decides to go on her honeymoon anyway. Directed by Randall Hickman, it runs through Aug. 23 at the Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido.

Dogfight: The local premiere of the musical about three Marines learning the power of compassion on the eve of his deployment to the Vietnam War. Presented by Cygnet Theatre Company, it runs through Aug. 23 at Old Town Theatre.

The Sea Horse: The story of a loner sailor who attempts to court the owner of the bar he's been coming to for years. Presented by Different Stages, it runs through Aug. 23 at the Swedenborg Church Hall in Normal Heights.

Unnecessary Farce: The comedic tale of an embezzling mayor trying to outrun his accountant, the law, and some hitmen as well. It runs through Aug. 23 at PowPAC Community Theatre in Poway.

Shrek the Musical: A singing-and-dancing take on the movie about an ogre in love. It runs through Aug. 29 at Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista.

Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery: The West Coast premiere of playwright Ken Ludwig's clever adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's classic Holmes tale, The Hound of the Baskervilles. It runs through Aug. 30 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.

Return to the Forbidden Planet: Shakespeare's The Tempest gets a sci-fi B-movie makeover complete with a classic-rock soundtrack. It runs through Sept. 6 at the New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad.

Up Here: The world premiere of the new musical comedy about a computer repairman trying to find happiness and love despite his many neuroses. Composed by the duo behind Avenue Q and In Transit, it runs through Sept. 6 at the La Jolla Playhouse.


See all events on Wednesday, Dec 7