"My only dream coming out of college was to get a show up in New York and having it reviewed," he says. "Quite honestly, I just wanted to be doing something in the theater that wasn't just for free."
Lopez, who helped create "Avenue Q" and "The Book of Mormon," is up for an Academy Award next month along with his co-writing partner and wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, for best song honors.
The songwriting duo's "Let it Go" from the "Frozen" soundtrack is one of four eligible to win, including Pharrell's "Happy" from the "Despicable Me 2" soundtrack, U2's "Ordinary Love" from "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," and "The Moon Song" by Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for Spike Jonze's "Her." At the Oscars, Broadway star Idina Menzel will sing "Let it Go," as she did in the film.
Lopez and his wife recently got to meet some of their competition and were a tad intimidated. "It's a strong year and these are artists that we look up to and think of as rock stars. We don't think of us in the same league," he said.
At a photo shoot, Lopez and Anderson-Lopez posed beside Bono, Jonze, Karen O. and Pharrell. "We just felt like this couple that somehow wandered in and got to be in the picture," he says, laughing. "We felt like photobombers."
Others might disagree, pointing to the huge success of "Frozen," about a magically icy princess and her sister. It has earned more than $864 million globally and prompted many YouTube tributes. Disney is even in talks about adapting "Frozen" into a Broadway musical.
Before the Academy Awards ceremony, Lopez will be in the spotlight for another reason: He is one of the speakers at the third TEDxBroadway conference, which brings together producers, marketers, entrepreneurs, academics and artists to try to answer the question, "What is the best Broadway can be?" This year the annual gathering is set for Feb. 24 at New World Stages.
Lopez plans to talk about a critical moment in his life before he worked on "Avenue Q" when he shifted his focus from trying to please potential employers to writing music to please audiences. The hits and awards soon followed.
He and his wife are eager to restart work on a musical they had to shelve while they worked on "Frozen," which was informed by their raising of two daughters. The new one is an original show called "Up Here" and it will be directed by Alex Timbers at a regional theater to be named later. "It's a very high-concept musical along the lines of 'Avenue Q' but on a larger scale."
One thing Lopez said he's grateful for is that his wife—with whom he created the 2011 Disney film "Winnie the Pooh" and "Finding Nemo—The Musical" at Disney World—is getting more recognition.
"I love seeing her finally get credit for the great artist that I think she is," he said. "She's been whispering in my ear my whole career and helping me along the way."
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits