Tag Archives: Pasek and Paul

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.)

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.)

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.

Your Westport Guide To The Oscars

This Sunday, Westport’s eyes will be on Justin Paul. The 2003 Staples High School graduate and his songwriting partner Benj Pasek are up for 2 Academy Awards.  Two of their “La La Land” lyrics — “City of Stars” and “Audition” — have been nominated for “Best Song.”

A 2nd Westporter is also up for an Oscar. Nicholas Britell’s “Moonlight” is among 5 nominees for “Best Original Score.”

Paul — who with Pasek also wrote the music for the current Broadway smash “Dear Evan Hansen” — has gotten plenty of local publicity.

Yet despite winning a Westport Arts Horizon Award in 2012, Britell has gotten less press here.

Nicholas Britell.

Nicholas Britell.

A 1998 graduate of Hopkins School in New Haven (as well as Juilliard and Harvard), he’s a New York-based composer, pianist, and film producer.

He composed and arranged spiritual and work songs, violin performances and dance numbers for “12 Years a Slave,” among many other credits.

Yesterday’s New York Times described how Britell “chopped and screwed” classical music, giving the “Moonlight” score its “otherworldly sound.” Click here for the full story.

Here’s wishing good luck to both Justin Paul and Nicholas Britell on Sunday. Besides growing up in Westport a few years apart, they’ve got another connection: Damien Chazelle. He’s known today for directing “La La Land.” Four years ago, he directed “Whiplash.” The producer was Britell.

(Hat tips: Anne Rutherford and Jeff Wieser. Click here for a full list of nominees for Sunday’s Academy Awards. If you spot any other Westport connections, click “Comments” below!)

Move Over, “Hamilton.” Forget It, “Camelot.” “Dear Evan Hansen” Rocks.

“06880” could post stories every day about Justin Paul, and never run out of things to say.

We could, but we won’t.

Nevertheless, the latest news about the 2003 Staples High School graduate — who with his songwriting partner Benj Pasek is a Golden Globe winner, Oscar nominee, movie and stage and TV sensation, and basically the hottest thing on the musical theater horizon since Rodgers and Hammerstein — is pretty impressive.

The original cast recording of “Dear Evan Hansen” — a Broadway smash — debuted at #8 on the Billboard chart. That’s higher than any cast recording since 1961, when “Camelot” appeared for the 1st time at #4.

To answer your question: “Hamilton” first showed up at #12.

That’s today’s Justin Paul news. We’ll be back soon with more, for sure.

(Want your own “Dear Evan Hansen” cast recording? Click here!)