Mae Whitman and Carlos Valdes Say Up Here Captures the Best of Both Broadway and Television
Mar 23, 2023
We’ve come a long way since Ally McBeal saw dancing babies and the kids from Glee broke out into song. Up Here is eager to stoke the creative fires of the musical comedy genre, something NBC’s Smash couldn’t sustain, and Paramount’s Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies intends to do with vigor. Up Here, based on a Broadway outing, has plenty of spunk and flare, much of it thanks to stellar production numbers and the passion of its two leads, Mae Whitman (Good Girls) and Carlos Valdes (The Flash). The actors’ apparent genuine love of the medium shines throughout Up Here, and the series has the makings of a new hit for Hulu.
Dear Evan Hansen and tick, tick…BOOM! titan Steven Levenson joins forces with Danielle Sanchez-Witzel (The Carmichael Show) to pen this dreamy love story. Meanwhile, songwriting duo Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (Frozen, WandaVision) have written a remarkably impressive array of original songs. Thomas Kail (Hamilton) directs and executive produces the new series with Levenson, Sanchez-Witzel, Anderson-Lopez, Lopez, and Jennifer Todd.
Set in New York City, we catch Lindsay and Miguel (Whitman and Valdes) during the latter part of 1999. Lindsay is forlorn, but gutsy, and looking for love. Miguel seems confident, but alas…. we soon discover that for each of these souls, their biggest obstacles are their own inner critics. All the more reason to break out into song and dance in fever dream sequences featuring the myriad characters and “voices” inside their heads, particularly family members.
Up Here also features Katie Finneran, Andréa Burns, Sophia Hammons, John Hodgman, and Emilia Suárez. Whitman and Valdes share more about how the show embraces the best of Broadway and television, and why it stands out creatively in the exclusive MovieWeb clip below.
Creating a Robust Production
Surely, producing a musical comedy for television is no easy feat. It requires groundbreaking vision, grit, and plenty of patience. Valdes went on to share that he was impressed by the creative team and how well everything was executed.
“Even though we were dealing with these vastly different kinds of storytelling styles, they all came together under the banner of making sure that the story was central to all of our priorities,” he said.
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Whitman added: “This was such a collaborative experience. The mark of true professionalism, to me, is when you’re good at what you do that you trust other people around you to do what they do. It just makes the entire project like, 10 percent better, when you all really love what you’re doing.”
“Having all those pieces together made a difference,” she added. “I could see that this was the culmination of everything I’ve been wanting to do for my entire life.”
Adapting the Broadway Show for Television
Robert Lopez (The Book of Mormon, Avenue Q) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who co-wrote the Oscar-winner “Let It Go” from Frozen, teamed up on the book, music, and lyrics of the stage version of Up Here. Steven Levenson, Anderson-Lopez, director Thomas Kail and others give the original material a new spin.
“We were definitely developing this in lockstep with the songwriters,” Levenson noted. “They were there with us every step of the way. And we were with them. We had some sense of where we wanted to go with this season, but where we landed on somewhat early on, at least within the first two years of developing the show, was that rather than eight episodes of TV, we were making eight mini-musicals. And each of these episodes had to have the integrity and the cohesiveness of its own musical. Then, hopefully, each of those all added together would create this one season-long musical.”
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That concept gave the first season its very own unique beginning, middle, and end. Director Thomas Kail chimed in, crediting the immensely talented production team and writers. And for a series about the voices inside our heads, it’s fitting to ask: What might be the one voice swimming around in Kail’s head?
“We talked about this so much. I think for me… I’m someone who came to doing this kind of late,” he admitted. “So, there’s always someone up there who’s like, ‘You know, people were doing this since they were 4, and you didn’t start till you’re old.’ It’s funny because people get a SAG card at 3. I mean, I was eating dirt when I was 10. You know what I mean? And people were already in like 18 movies by then. So, I think there’s just a part of me that I found all this late, and I’ve always wanted to try to catch up. There are the little voices saying, ‘there’s probably more you can do.’ And I guess if you’ve seen Hamilton, you realize that voice is very loud in my head because that’s basically what the whole show is.”
He went on to cheer Whitman and Valdes, who shines throughout Up Here, adding that one of the things he was intrigued by with the series was when one’s internal obstacles are the biggest obstacles. “There are these things that hold us back; these things that get in the way before we even open the door to go out and experience the word,” he said. “We really wanted to make something that believes in love, believes in the possibility of connection, and also puts enough honesty on screen, so that you can find a different way.”
Up Here streams on Hulu beginning March 24.
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