Tag Archives: Justin Paul

Justin Paul’s Lin Manuel Miranda Moment

Justin Paul. Lin Manuel Miranda. Ben Platt. The March For Our Lives.

That’s quite a combination.

Yesterday, the 4th #Hamiltondrop video was released. The series features monthly “Hamilton”-inspired mashups, combined with other well-known songs.

The one mixes “Hamilton”‘s “Story of Tonight” with “You Will Be Found,” from “Dear Evan Hansen.” That tune was written by Staples High School graduate Justin Paul, and his songwriting partner Benj Pasek.

The mashup is sung by Miranda and Ben Platt, a Tony Award winner for his portrayal of the “Hansen” title character. Broadway.com says it may be the best of the entire series.

The video includes quick shots of Justin, sitting on a couch watching the recording. It was made just a couple of hours after he visited Staples High and Coleytown Middle Schools. He was exhausted, but excited.

Proceeds from downloads (click here) go to this weekend’s march, organized by teenagers to draw attention to gun violence and political inaction.

Emma Gonzalez — a Parkland High School student, political activist and march leader — tweeted: “I just listened to it and I can’t stop crying. I’m gonna listen to this forever holy heck.”

Merrily, Staples Players Roll Along

Justin Paul was a Broadway composer. Collaborating with his best friend, he was hailed for his talent and creativity.

Over the years though, Justin made choices that took him away from his dream of writing songs that made a difference. He let his friends down, sold out, and became just another Hollywood producer.

That’s a true story. Fortunately, the only connection Justin Paul has with it is that the composer is a character he once played.

As a high school senior in 2003, Justin was Frank in Staples Players’ production of “Merrily We Roll Along.” It was a great, complex role, for a talented actor.

For the 2003 production of “Merrily We Roll Along,” Justin Paul (left) and Trey Skinner posed for this photo. It was projected on the Staples stage between scenes, showing changes in characters’ lives. Amazingly, the Music Box Theatre is once again part of Justin Paul’s life: It’s the home of his blockbuster show, “Dear Evan Hansen.”

But Justin was even more talented as a songwriter. At the University of Michigan, he met another very passionate theater major. He and Benj Pasek bonded over their shared love for — you can’t make this stuff up — “Merrily.”

Fast forward more than a decade. Pasek and Paul are now the hottest songwriting team in Hollywood (“The Greatest Showman,” “La La Land”) and on Broadway (“Dear Evan Hansen”).

In fact, the first chapter in a new coffee table book about “Evan Hansen” details that first-year Sondheim experience in Ann Arbor.

Now fast forward even more. Staples Players directors David Roth and Kerry Long are reprising “Merrily We Roll Along.”

And once again, Justin Paul plays a key role.

No, he’s not onstage. But last Friday he visited with the cast and crew. He sat in on rehearsal. And when the curtain goes up later this month, he’ll be in the audience.

Charlie Zuckerman, Avery Mendillo and Nick Rossi perform “Old Friends” in “Merrily We Roll Along.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

“Merrily” is an intriguing show. The story is told backwards. It begins as Frank looks back regretfully on the choices he made. Each subsequent scene takes place several years before the previous one. Each reveals the process behind those choices.

The cast began rehearsing the show in the opposite direction — going forward. “It’s really important for the kids to understand the changes their characters go through, over 20 years,” Roth explains. “That way they can get a grasp on the aging process.”

He notes that the original Broadway cast was all between 17 and 20 years old. That’s close to the age of his Staples students.

“It’s poignant that our kids are at a point in their lives when they still have dreams — and can actually accomplish them,” Roth says.

Avery Mendillo, Nick Rossi, Charlie Zuckerman and the “Merrily We Roll Along” ensemble. (Photo/Kerry Long)

‘Merrily We Roll Along” is, he adds, “a cautionary tale. The message is: Keep an eye on your dreams. That’s what Kerry and I feel is so awesome about the play. It makes you realize you can lose your dreams. But you don’t have to.”

The 2003 production — with Justin Paul — was powerful. Several theatergoers told Roth that the show had made them take a serious look at their own lives. “The power of theater is really amazing,” he notes.

So is the power of Staples Players.

(“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.)

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.)

James, The Giant Peach, Ben Frimmer And Justin Paul

When Ben Frimmer began teaching 5th grade at Coleytown Middle School in 1995, he lucked out.

Justin Paul was in his class.

Justin Paul’s Oscar acceptance speech.

Ben also directed Coleytown Company — the acting and tech troupe — and Justin was a natural. He starred in the middle school productions of  “Peter Pan,” “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”

After  Staples High School, Justin went on to fame — including Oscar, Tony and Grammy awards — with his songwriting partner Benj Pasek, for mega-hits like “Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman.”

Ben has stayed at Coleytown, influencing countless youngsters in the classroom and on stage.

Teacher and former student stayed in touch. In 2003 — as a Staples High School senior — Justin served as music director for Ben’s production of “Footloose.”

“I wanted someone young and hip,” Ben recalls. “He totally handled it.”

This year — as Ben began planning Coleytown Company’s spring production — he thought of “James and the Giant Peach.” Early in their career — in 2010 — Pasek and Paul wrote the music for the theatrical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved tale.

Ben Frimmer (left) directs Emily Desser, Imogen Medoff, Shanti Wimmer and Nina Driscoll. (Photo/Colleen Coffey)

“It’s hard to find age-appropriate shows for middle school actors, and a middle and elementary school audience,” Ben notes.

“‘Dogfight’ would not be appropriate” — that’s the Pasek and Paul play (with a book by Westporter Peter Duchan) about Marines and their night of debauchery — but “James” definitely is.

The musical is about a boy who loses his parents, and lives with angry, conniving aunts. Through a bit of magic, a peach and some bugs become giants. James is embraced by the bugs, and finds happiness with them.

Ben got rights to the show. Then he asked Justin if he could work with the Company. The cast numbers more than 50, with a tech crew of 20 more.

“He’s 100% on board,” Ben reports. “He’s very excited.”

So despite an insanely busy schedule — including the Oscars last Sunday — Justin will be at Coleytown this Friday (March 9). He’ll play piano, and rehearse with the kids from his alma mater.

“That’s who he is,” Ben says. “And he’s as excited as they are, for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

“James and the Giant Peach” cast members (from left) Emily Desser, Nina Driscoll, Shanti Wimmer and Imogen Medoff. (Photo/Colleen Coffey)

The youngsters all know who Justin Paul is. Many have seen “Dear Evan Hansen,” and everyone knows “The Greatest Showman.” The film’s song “This Is Me” has become a worldwide smash.

Ben says this is not the first time that Justin has reached out to the town — and schools — that gave him his start. He’s invited Ben and Staples Players directors David Roth and Kerry Long to the set of “Showman.” He also brought all theater teachers in Westport to tech rehearsals of both “Evan Hansen” and “A Christmas Story: The Musical.”

Now he’s inspiring not just teachers, but the next generation of theater-goers.

And actors, who may — who knows? — one day perform in another great film or show, with music by Justin Paul.

“James and the Giant Peach” will be performed at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 23 and Saturday, March 24, and at 1 p.m. on March 24 and Sunday, March 25. For tickets and more information, click here (search for “Coleytown”). For ticket questions, email swebster@westportps.org.

Justin Paul Makes US Olympics

Justin Paul was a Staples Player. As in, the acting troupe.

He was not an ice hockey player. Nor did he play any other sport.

But the 2003 graduate will be everywhere at this month’s Winter Olympics.

As millions of viewers of last night’s Super Bowl noticed, “This Is Me” — a song composed by Paul and songwriting partner Benj Pasek — was the background for a dramatic, compelling NBC Sports ad.

The song — sung by The Bearded Lady (Keala Ssettle) in “The Greatest Showman,” an anthem of diversity and acceptance — fits well with the network’s goal of personalizing Olympic athletes, celebrating their many paths to success and achievement.

The ad will air frequently during the PyeongChang games. They begin Thursday.

“This Is Me” is having a run that Bode Miller would envy. It won a Golden Globe, and has been nominated for an Oscar. The soundtrack reached the top of the charts internationally, and was #1 on iTunes in over 65 countries.

So tune in this month for the athletes. And enjoy Westport’s own amazing artist — Justin Paul — too.

BONUS FUN FACTWestport resident John Miller is chief marketing officer for NBC’s Olympics coverage.

(Hat tip: Mary Palmieri Gai)

Justin Paul Gets His Grammy

Justin Paul has done it again!

The 2003 Staples High School graduate and his songwriting partner Benj Pasek snagged a Grammy today.

“Dear Evan Hansen” won for Best Musical Theater Album.

Most songwriters would consider that a career-capping coup.

But for Pasek and Paul — neither of them old enough yet to run for president — the Grammy is merely one more award in a year that’s been packed with them.

The duo have already won an Oscar (for “La La Land”) and a Tony (“Dear Evan Hansen”).

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

If they receive an Emmy, they’ll not just have the exalted status of EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar Tony). They’ll be the youngest ever.

And the fastest.

Of the 12 EGOT performers, the youngest so far is composer Robert Lopez. He was 39 years old — and it took him 14 years.

The Vulture website says:

It’s possible that they could complete entertainment’s holy grail later this year if nominated for their work on Fox’s A Christmas Story Live!, which they wrote just as they did the original Broadway production it was based on. Say they don’t do it then? No matter: They can just ask their good friend Damien Chazelle to let them do the music for his new TV projects, or, really, just put their golden touch on anything televised.

Then again, Pasek and Paul might invent their own category: EGOTGG.

Earlier this month they earned a Golden Globe for “Best original song, motion picture” for “This Is Me,” from “The Greatest Showman.”

Move over, PT Barnum. Justin Paul and Benj Pasek may well be the greatest showmen ever.

(Hat tips: Beth Cody and Lyn Hogan)

Justin Paul Scores Again

The hits just keep on comin’!

2003 Staples High School graduate Justin Paul and his writing partner Benj Pasek snagged yet another honor  at last night’s Golden Globes.

The pair won “Best original song, motion picture” for “This Is Me,” from “The Greatest Showman.”

The “La La Land” and “Dear Evan Hansen” songwriters beat stiff competition. Other contenders included “Home” from “Ferdinand,” “Mighty River” music from “Mudbound,” “Remember Me” from “Coco” and “The Star” from the movie of the same name.

Oscar nominations will be announced January 23.

Justin Paul (left) and Benj Pasek, at last night’s Golden Globe Awards. (Photo/Paul Drinkwater NBC)

Justin Paul’s Next Oscar: P.T. Barnum?

2017 was quite a year for Justin Paul.

The 2003 Staples High School grad and his music writing partner, Benj Pasek, won an Oscar for “La La Land”‘s lyrics, and a Tony for “Dear Evan Hansen.”

The year is almost over. But the insanely talented duo have an ace up their sleeve:

P.T. Barnum.

Pasek and Paul contributed 11 original songs to “The Greatest Showman.” The 20th Century Fox film premieres December 20.

The Hollywood Reporter says they’ll be Oscar contenders — along with the likes of “Beauty and the Beast” (by Alan Menken and Tim Rice) and Sara Bareilles’ “Battle of the Sexes.”

Justin Paul at the Oscars.

The other day, Pasek and Paul took time out from rehearsals of Fox TV’s live musical “A Christmas Story” (December 17, with Maya Rudolph and Matthew Broderick — no, they never stop working) to talk to the Reporter.

Asked about “pushing the limits” with Hugh Jackman, Paul said:

We were, of course, intimidated because he’s such a master of musical theater, especially onscreen. But we were also inspired to write for a lead character that will be portrayed by Hugh, with all of his abilities and his vocal range and everything. It gives a songwriter such clear parameters of the playground, and with Hugh, it’s a really big one.

As for lessons learned from “La La Land,” he noted:

We view this as a window of time. Maybe it lasts for a while and maybe it doesn’t. The winds seem to shift sometimes, and we’ve obviously seen periods where people have really embraced musicals and periods where it’s really fallen out. But there are people who aren’t necessarily Broadway fanatics like we are, who still want to see a musical on Christmas with their families.

The former Staples Player and Orphenian star is no longer on stage. He explained:

As for all the [awards season] events, we definitely feel funny getting dressed up for something because we’re intentionally behind the scenes. There’s such a humbling neurosis that goes along with writing because no matter what you’ve done, the next time you go to write a song, you’re standing at a piano and there’s a high probability that you’ve struck out the first time you try, no matter what. That will never change.

(Click here to read the entire Hollywood Reporter interview.)

TEA Talk Sunday Explores Art, Social Change

Everyone knows about TED Talks.

But here in Westport, we’ve got TEA Talks.

The Westport Arts Advisory Committee’s annual TEA — that’s Thinkers Educators Artists — event is set for this Sunday (October 29, 2 p.m., Town Hall).

The topic is timely and relevant: Art and Social Change.

Three 20-minute conversations among Westport arts professionals will explore how artists working in theater, art, writing and music can move popular thought, or sway public opinion.

In a nod to today’s fraught times, they’ll ask (and hopefully answer): “Does it take difficult times or momentous events for artists to create work that is a form of political and social currency?”

In the late 1960s, Naiad Einsel’s “Save Cockenoe Now” posters were a local symbol of the intersection of art and social change.

Carole Schweid (actor/director, Play With Your Food) and Michael Barker (managing director, Westport Country Playhouse) will address theater’s historical role addressing social issues.

Miggs Burroughs (artist/graphic designer/no further introduction needed) and Mark Yurkiw (artist/entrerpreneur) will discuss the influence of visual art on social change.

Haris Durrani (Photo/Miggs Burroughs)

And John Dodig (former Staples principal) will chat with 2011 graduate Haris Durrani about the young writer’s fiction novella, “Technologies of the Self,” about the life of a young American Muslim after 9/11.

Durrani will also be presented with the Horizon Award, given annually by the Arts Advisory Committee to a Westport artist under the age of 32 who shows extraordinary accomplishment and potential.

Rounding out the afternoon are professional performances of songs expressing socially conscious messages, from yesterday (Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific”) and today (Pasek and Westport’s Justin Paul’s “Dear Evan Hansen.”)

A reception follows the intriguing TEA talks, at the Westport Historical Society across from Town Hall.


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)