Tag Archives: Benj Pasek

Justin Paul: Yesterday, And 2002

Last night was another big milestone for Justin Paul.

The 2003 Staples High School graduate and his writing partner Benj Pasek won a Tony Award for Best Original Score (“Dear Evan Hansen”). They shared another later in the evening, as the show was named Best Musical.

Before the ceremony, NY1 caught up with the white-hot duo on the red carpet. During the brief interview, Paul named David Roth (Staples High School), Ben Frimmer (Coleytown Middle School) and Kevin Connors (Music Theatre of Connecticut) as important influences while growing up.

Here’s the video:

Meanwhile, retired media teacher Jim Honeycutt unearthed this video of Paul as a senior, when he performed in Roth’s Staples Players production of “Merrily We Roll Along.”

Here’s his solo of “Growing Up.”

He certainly has!

Benj Pasek (left) and Justin Paul (3rd from left) celebrate at the Tonys last night with Paul’s wife Asher and Coleytown Middle School director Ben Frimmer.

(Hat tip: Hedi Ann Lieberman)

 

And The Tony Award For Best Original Score Goes To …

… who else?

Justin Paul capped a monster year with Broadway’s most prestigious honor, for the mega-smash “Dear Evan Hansen.”

The duo later shared another Tony, as the show was named Best Musical.

Earlier this winter, the 2003 Staples High School grad — and songwriting partner Benj Pasek — earned Oscars and Golden Globes for “City of Stars,” their signature song from “La La Land.”

There are many more awards to come, for the hottest young songwriters on stage and screen.

But chances are the former Staples Players star will never forget his first ones.

Justin Paul (left) and Benj Pasek, accepting their Tony Award tonight.

Hail To The Victors (And Justin Paul)

Saturday’s University of Michigan graduation ceremonies — coinciding with the 200th anniversary of the institution — caused a bit of controversy. Some students were disappointed there was no keynote speaker.

But everyone loved the entertainment.

Justin Paul — the Staples Class of 2003 alum — joined with songwriting partner (and fellow Michigan Bicentennial Alumni Award winner) Benj Pasek in a special musical performance.

The Oscar and Golden Globe Award winners — accompanied by UM School of Music Theater & Dance seniors — entertained the 10,758 graduates and many more family and friends with “Amaizing Blue Medley.” It included songs from the duo’s “La La Land” movie and “Dear Evan Hansen” Broadway smash, along with original references to UM.

(Earlier today, Pasek and Paul earned a Best Original Score Tony nomination, for “Hansen.”)

Click below for a video of the cold and windy but energetic event (which unfortunately omits the “Amaizing” pun in the graphics). Justin and Benj begin at the 2:30 mark.

Congrats to the UM graduates from Westport: Siri Andrews, Perri Cohen, Jonny Denowitz, Jen Dimitrief, Anna Fiolek, Louisa Freeman, Jason Hoving, Julia Kaner, DJ Petta, Rusty Schindler, Lily Seo and Bailey Valente.

(Hat tip: Westport 2nd selectman Avi Kaner — proud parent of 2017 University of Michigan grad Julia Kaner)

The view from the stage of the 109,000-seat stadium.

Justin Paul Wins An Oscar — And Hails School Arts Programs

Justin Paul and his songwriting partner, Benj Pasek, won Oscars tonight for “City of Stars,” the signature song from “La La Land.” The lyricists were honored for another song — “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” — from the same film. So they had 40% of the category locked down.

The 2003 Staples High School graduate used part of his acceptance speech to give a shout-out to the importance of the arts for young people.

“I was educated in public schools, where arts and culture are valued,” Paul — a product of the Westport school system — said. At a time of pressure from STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) state requirements, as well as the possible elimination of the National Endowment of the Arts, Paul made sure to thank all the teachers who helped nurture him.

He did not mention them by name, but former Staples High School choral director Alice Lipson and current Staples Players directors David Roth and Kerry Long were enormous influences. So were Coleytown Middle School director Ben Frimmer, and Kevin Connors of Music Theatre of Connecticut.

Justin Paul at the Oscars.

Justin Paul at the Oscars.

Paul and Pasek’s Oscar is the latest in a string of awards for the young duo. Earlier this year, “City of Stars” earned a Golden Globe.

And that comes on the heels of the success of Broadway’s “Dear Evan Hansen,” for which they wrote the music and lyrics.

Congratulations Justin, from all your fans in Westport — this “town of stars.”

Justin Paul's Oscar acceptance speech.

Justin Paul’s Oscar acceptance speech.

Justin Paul, His Best Friend, And The New York Times

“06880” has covered the career of Justin Paul extensively. All of us in Westport are intensely proud of the Broadway songwriter, who — with his musical partner Benj Pasek — has been called the next Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Now the New York Times has taken note too.

A long — loooong — cover story in this coming Sunday’s Theater section by Michael Paulson is headlined “What It’s Like to Make It in Showbiz With Your Best Friend.”

Justin Paul (right) and Benj Pasek.

Justin Paul (right) and Benj Pasek.

It begins:

They met at 18, the worst dancers in a college ballet class, and sought refuge in a basement practice room, taking a first stab at songwriting with a tune about adolescents playing hooky and footsie at a suburban diner.

They went viral before going viral was a thing — their undergraduate years coincided with the birth of Facebook, and the first song cycle Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote, called “Edges,” was discovered, shared and performed by musical theater majors around the country.

Now, at the age of 31, after a decade of being touted as promising, up-and-coming, and ones-to-watch, Pasek and Paul have arrived.

Ben Pasek (left) and Justin Paul, deep into their

Ben Pasek (left) and Justin Paul a few years ago, deep into their “24-Hour Musical.” (Photo by Kerry Long)

There are ample shoutouts to Westport:

They are, on the surface, quite different from each other. Mr. Paul, who lives in Harlem, is a churchgoing Christian from Westport, Conn.; straight; married; and the father of a 7-month-old daughter. Mr. Pasek, who grew up in Ardmore, Pa., and now lives on the Upper West Side, is gay, Jewish and single.

But they both began as little boys who loved to sing.

Mr. Paul, a talented pianist, started early. At age 3, he was singing gospel music with his father, a pastor, in church. Later, he sang and danced at senior centers with Music Theater of Connecticut; and then, at Staples High School, he performed in “Into the Woods,” conducted the orchestra in “Hello, Dolly!” and spent his free time poring over Broadway “fake books,” which help pianists master melodies.

There’s much more, of course. For the full story — and photos — click here.

(Hat tip: Tommy Greenwald)

Justin Paul (And Evan Hansen) Hit Broadway

Justin Paul is no stranger to Broadway.

Growing up in Westport, he saw plenty of shows on the Great White Way — and dreamed of getting there one day himself.

In 2012, he and his writing partner Benj Pasek made their Broadway debut with “A Christmas Story.”

Next month, the 2003 Staples grad is back. “Dear Evan Hansen” — the darkly funny show he and Pasek wrote that earned Obie, Outer Critics Circle and Helen Hayes Awards during its run at the Second Stage Theater — moves to the Music Box Theatre on 45th Street.

Previews begin on November 14. The official opening night is December 4.

Justin Paul (right) and Benj Pasek.

Justin Paul (right) and Benj Pasek.

It’s another feather in the cap of the young Westporter. It’s also a ton of work.

The move from a 299-seat theater to one seating 860 demands physical changes — tweaking and adjusting the set, staging and lighting.

It also forces the songwriters to look at ways to make the show “fuller, deeper and richer,” Paul says.

They’re adapting some lyrics, rearranging some music and honing the characters. Paul calls the changes “surgical.” It’s all part of the creative process.

dear-evan-hansen

“Dear Evan Hansen” is not your typical Broadway show. With the tagline “a new musical for the outsider in us all,” it focuses on a teenager who becomes involved in another teen’s tragedy. Pasek and Paul tell an important story, one nothing like the adventures of a lion or witches.

Though they’re 2 of the hottest young songwriters in the country, the duo did not set out to write “Dear Evan Hansen” as a Broadway show. They thought the subject matter would appeal to a non-profit company.

But they wanted the play to speak to more than their own generation of millennials. Director Michael Greif (“Rent,” “Next to Normal”) and their producer encouraged them to widen their lens.

The show is based in part on an incident at Pasek’s high school in Philadelphia. But Paul — who met his writing partner at the University of Michigan — also recalled another tragedy: 9/11.

He was a junior at Staples, and remembers the many raw emotions unleashed by that event in his school so close to New York City.

Now “Dear Evan Hansen” has transcended its small-house origins. It’s rare for an original show — not a book or movie adaption — to make the leap to Broadway.

But Westporters know that Justin Paul is a rare songwriter.

Soon, all of Broadway will know it too.

(For more information on “Dear Evan Hansen” — and tickets — click here. BONUS NEWS: Carol King reports that Pasek and Paul are writing the music for Disney’s upcoming remake of “Snow White.”)


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Pasek And Paul In “La La Land”

Broadway loves Pasek and Paul.

Songwriters Benj Pasek and 2003 Staples High School graduate Justin Paul have earned raves, for productions like “A Christmas Story,” “Dogfight” and — moving to Broadway this fall — “Dear Evan Hansen.”

Soon, Hollywood audiences will love Pasek and Paul too.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone sing their lyrics in “La La Land.” The musical — about a love story between a jazz pianist and a would-be actress — opens in movie theaters this December.

In the trailer below, Gosling sings “City of Stars.” The music is by Justin Hurwitz.

(Hat tip: Lynn Flaster)

Justin Paul Juggles New Play, New Baby

Justin Paul’s life sounds like the plot of a play. He’s racing to finish his latest project on a tight deadline — while simultaneously welcoming his 1st child into the world.

The “play” metaphor is apt. Justin and Benj Pasek — America’s hottest young songwriting team — are putting the finishing touches on an exciting new off-Broadway production: “Dear Evan Hansen.”

Justin Paul

Justin Paul

Justin and his wife Asher’s baby was a couple of days late. He calls those extra hours of morning-to-late-night rehearsals, rewriting and tweaking “a gift before my world turned upside down.”

Boom! On Thursday, Emerson arrived. Only a new baby could divert Justin from the manic process of bringing a new show to New York.

Here’s the back story.

Justin — a 2003 Staples High School graduate — met his songwriting partner at the University of Michigan. They earned a 2007 Jonathan Larson grant as voices of a new generation, then went on to compose music and lyrics for “A Christmas Story,” “Dogfight,” “Edges” and “James and the Giant Peach.” Their songs were featured on NBC’s “Smash.”

“Dear Evan Hansen” is nothing like those.

The production notes say:

All his life Evan Hansen has felt invisible. To his peers, to the girl he loves, sometimes even to his own mother. But that was before he wrote the letter — that led to the incident — that started the lie — that ignited a movement – that inspired a community — and changed Evan’s status from the ultimate outsider into the somebody everyone wants to know. But how long can Evan keep his secret? And at what price?

Dear Evan Hansen - logo

Justin adds:

Evan Hansen is a lonely, isolated high school kid. His social anxiety is magnified by his hyper-connected digital life. But that’s not his only connection. The show is about the importance of connections during tragedy.

“Dear Evan Hansen” is complicated and intriguing. It is also, Justin says, “darkly funny.” The advertising tagline is: “A new musical for the outsider in us all.”

The book was inspired by an event at Benj’s high school. The pair kicked the idea for a play around in college, but could not figure out how to turn it into a musical. Now — with the book by Steven Levenson — they’ve done it.

Justin and Benj were high school students during 9/11. Justin remembers the urgent need during that awful time for people to come together, feel community, and examine their humanity. It’s a theme he’s wanted to tackle ever since.

“The chance to write an original story and musical is very rare,” Justin says. “The chance we get to tell this story — in our voice — is great. We have incredible freedom, and it comes from our hearts.”

Benj Pasek (left) and Justin Paul.

Benj Pasek (left) and Justin Paul.

Impending fatherhood intersected with the premiere of his new show in fascinating ways.

“Being a father for the first time is frightening,” Justin admits. “And the story is about a boy and his mother who don’t really connect. They’re pulled in different directions.”

This winter — during the sold-out run in Washington, DC — Justin and Benj were struck by how often a parent would see the show, then return later with a child. Or vice versa.

The Washington Post called the play “entertainingly smart … radiating charm, wit and humor.”

One song was written during a tough time for Justin and his wife. Hearing it each night during rehearsals, those raw emotions return.

A scene from "Dear Evan Hansen."

A scene from “Dear Evan Hansen.”

Previews have already begun. “Nothing crashed to the ground,” Justin says with relief. “We’re on our path to opening night.”

That date is May 1, at Second Stage Theatre. The cast is rehearsing 5 hours a day. They take a break, then perform for audiences at night. Each day, there are script and lighting changes.

“The ground constantly shifts,” Justin says. “It’s topsy-turvy, but fun. It’s musical theater boot camp.”

And for the next act — add a baby!

(For show times, tickets and more information, click here.)

Paul, Pasek — And Jackman

Staples graduate Justin Paul ’03 and songwriting partner Benj Pasek are well known on Broadway (“A Christmas Story” was nominated for a Tony Award).

They’re known off-Broadway, and overseas (“Dogfight” was just nominated for an Evening Standard Award for Best Musical in London).

They’re known on TV (NBC’s “Smash”).

Now the talented duo heads to the big screen.

They’ll contribute most of the songs to the new Hugh Jackman film musical, “The Greatest Showman on Earth.” Filming begins this summer in New York.

The movie showcases P.T. Barnum’s life. He was a circus creator and the promoter of Tom Thumb, of course. But Barnum was also the mayor of Bridgeport.

So as far from Westport as Justin Paul’s career has taken him, he hasn’t really left at all.

Justin Paul

Justin Paul

 

24 Hours To Showtime

At Staples, Ari Edelson spent months putting on shows. Whether acting or directing in Players, the 1994 grad learned to do theater the way  professionals do.

Now — as a professional “director/ producer/ multiple hat-wearer” with successes on 2 continents — Ari understands more than ever the importance of organization, planning and preparation.

Except when he’s putting on a musical in just 24 hours.

Ari Edelson, doing an interview for "24-Hour Musicals." (Photo by Kerry Long)

Ari Edelson, doing an interview for “24-Hour Musicals.” (Photo by Kerry Long)

From start — casting, writing songs and dialogue, staging, rehearsing and opening — to finish.

Poof! Like Brigadoon, the moment the curtain falls on a performance that did not exist one day earlier, it’s gone forever.

24-Hour Musicals,” they’re called. Ari has organized them at New York’s Gramercy Theatre since 2008.

Now they’ve become a little less ephemeral. A documentary crew has produced a film about the event. “One Night Stand” — which earned great reviews at festivals around the country — will open nationally in hundreds of theaters on Wednesday, January 30.

Fittingly, it will play for one night only. The closest Connecticut sites are Milford and Danbury.

Ben Pasek (left) and Justin Paul, deep into their "24-Hour Musical." (Photo by Kerry Long)

Ben Pasek (left) and Justin Paul, deep into their “24-Hour Musical.” (Photo by Kerry Long)

This being Westport, there’s more than one connection to the film. Staples 2003 grad Justin Paul and his writing partner, Benj Pasek — who most recently wrote the Broadway smash “A Christmas Story, The Musical” — participated in the 2009 24-Hour Musical, which the filmmakers followed. Ari, Justin and Ben are featured prominently in the movie.

Ari calls each exhausting, exhilarating 24-Hour Musical “an Ironman for the theater.”

The New York Times says the film “borrows from the frenzied, ticking-clock world of reality television.”

Describing the final product, Ari says, “Part of the fun is when people forget their lines. The audience loves seeing blood on the floor.”

There’s an even better line in the movie. Near the beginning, actress Tamara Tunie proclaims, “I’m excited and I’m terrified. It is kind of like sex.”

One Night Stand