Justin Paul Returns To His Roots

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.)

Justin Paul yesterday, at Staples High School. (Photo/Dan Woog)

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.

At the end of his appearance yesterday at Staples High School, Justin played piano as students sang the “Dear Evan Hansen” classic, “Waving Through a Window.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

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.)

8 responses to “Justin Paul Returns To His Roots

  1. Lori Winthrop Dockser

    My daughter says it was the most incredible players experience. Thank you Justin Paul

  2. Arline Gertzoff

    Way back when I was the head of Players tech crew.One of my best life experiencesHow thrilling for Justin Paul to come back to where it all began Blessings to all past and present Players .

  3. Kris Jandora

    How incredible for Justin Paul to visit both CMS and Staples in one day… he clearly has a heart as big as his talent. My kids and I loved watching and hearing the Staples students sing “Waving Through the Window;” thank you for sharing the video!

  4. Here is Justin at Coleytown working with the kids on Jame and The Giant Peach. He’s wonderful! http://www.westportnow.com/index.php?/v3/comments/video_justin_paul_back_at_coleytown_middle_school/

  5. Kudos to Justin for coming back and providing an inspiration to the current Players. He has obviously achieved success at the highest level and it is fantastic that he shared his stories and insights in person.

    But what is perhaps equally impressive to me is the tremendous networking that takes place among the Staples Players–a lot of it naturally behind the scenes and not in the news–with a good number of alums going on to work in the arts, even if they haven’t reached the pinnacle that Justin has.

    I had one experience working with David Roth and Kerry Long, where they did a wonderful job serving as director and assistant director of a rock musical I developed and ultimately produced at the NY International Fringe Festival. And they brought on board several then-recent Staples alums, who all went on to professional success in acting/writing/directing/lighting design: Daryl Wein, Daniel Hall, and Alec Bernstein. (If readers are not familiar with Daryl or Daniel, you can check them out on IMDB.)

    The stage manager, Jessie Moore, had just graduated from Staples at that time and, while I was at first a bit apprehensive about having someone so young have so much responsibility, I put my faith in David’s judgment–and he was 100% right about her abilities.

    Westport is so fortunate to have the Staples Players program and I was so fortunate to have the talents of so many people connected to Staples Players be part of “All Good Things.”

  6. M. Benedetto

    He’s such a gift to the aspiring artists here in town. Glad School didn’t get canceled that day!

  7. Roberta Tager

    Any chance that his Mom is Lee and his Dad is Wayne?

    Sent from my iPhone Bobbi