One of the pivotal moments in Justin Paul’s life came when he played Frank, the lead role in “Merrily We Roll Along.” Stephen Sondheim’s complex, intriguing play helped Justin — a Staples High School senior — understand the power and importance of theater.
Another key moment occurred when a stranger in the audience — Justin has no idea who — complimented him, and said he could make a career in the theater.
Up to then, Justin had figured he’d be — who knows, maybe a lawyer? But because of that random comment — similar to advice given by parents and teachers, but teenager listens to them — Justin seriously reconsidered his choices.
Broadway and film lovers are glad he did. After graduating from the University of Michigan — where he was not the best actor (and perhaps the worst dancer) in his theater program, but where he did meet his great friend and songwriting partner Benj Pasek — Justin’s career has taken off like, well, a movie tale.
He and Benj have already won Oscars, Tonys and Grammys, for “Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman.”
And he’s just 15 years out of high school.
Yesterday, Justin told those stories before a rapt audience of Staples Players, in the auditorium. (He also joked that, as young as he is, some current Staples Players were not yet born when he graduated.)
Players is currently in the midst of rehearsals for their spring production — which (surprise!) happens to be “Merrily We Roll Along.”
As with any show, there have been challenges. Not the least is missing 2 key days of rehearsals, when schools closed this week after the winter storm.
So the young actors, tech crew and singers who listened in awe to Justin — and asked great questions — may have been the only Staples students happy to have only a 3-hour delay yesterday, not a 5-day weekend.
Justin talked honestly, passionately and with plenty of humor about his life at Staples, and in theater. He inspired, motivated and validated hundreds of teenagers, at a pivotal moment in their lives — just as he had been inspired, motivated and validated 15 years ago, in the same auditorium.
And then — after sharing not just his wisdom, but his music — with them, he headed off to Coleytown Middle School.
Where he did the same, for another cherished alma mater.
(“Merrily We Roll Along” will be performed on Friday and Saturday, March 16, 17, 23 and 24 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 18 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students and $10 for seniors (matinee only). For tickets and more information, click here.)