Pop Quiz: Who are these guys?
If you answered Pasek and Paul, congratulations, you know how to read a blog post title! If you answered ‘I have no freaking clue’, may I introduce to you Benj Pasek (left) & Justin Paul, the musical duo who are about to have the best year of their lives. I’m 99.2% sure of it. Why? They’ve created enough buzz with two big projects that they could potentially be nominated for both Oscars and Tonys in the same year. NBD.
First off, these two are the lyricists behind the songs in La La Land, the movie that everyone is raving about, including me, who lit’rally cannot stop thinking about how great it was since seeing it last week. Second, they’re the creators behind Dear Evan Hansen, the Broadway musical that everyone is raving about, including me, who has not seen it but lit’rally cannot stop playing the only two songs released from the soundtrack on loop.
So before these dudes blow up in 2017, here’s a timeline of their work so far, because with the way their careers are going, I don’t think they’re going away anytime soon.
2005 – Edges
Benj & Justin, both 31, met when they were freshmen at the University of Michigan, and their creative partnership began. Their sophomore year, they created a coming-of-age musical called Edges, which in the beginning era of Facebook (colleges ONLY!) and Mp3 file sharing, became a viral sensation amongst musical theater nerds everywhere. Here’s our boyfriend Aaron Tveit performing Along the Way from Edges a few years after the duo first composed the song cycle in college. Dreamy as he’s ever been.
2007 – Jonathan Larson Glory
Just one year after they graduated from UofM, they were the recipients of the Jonathan Larson grant, which is named after the late Rent composer and honors musical theatre composers, lyricists and book writers. Given by the Jonathan Larson Foundation in conjunction with the American Theatre Wing (aka the org that’s responsible for the Tonys), Benj & Justin became the youngest people ever to receive the grant. And so far, the grant has paid off.
2010 – A Christmas Story
The musical adaptation of the beloved movie was Benj & Justin’s big musical break and landed them a number of firsts. After their were recruited to write the music and lyrics for the show after the original composer left, A Christmas Story became the first large-scale musical they’d ever written. When it premiered at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in 2013, it became their first Broadway show. It marked their first nominations for the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards. It also marked their first Tony nominations, for Best Book and Best Musical. Who knew Ralphie could give this duo so much acclaim?
2012 – Dogfight
Every year, there are a couple shows Off-Broadway that folks in the theater community can’t stop raving about. In 2012, that show was Dogfight, a musical adaptation of the 1991 movie starring River Phoenix and Lili Taylor. It centered on a Marine who takes part in a “dogfight”, in which each dude adorably attempts to find the ugliest woman to take out on a date. The show won two Lucille Lortel Awards, the Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theater, and earned a Drama League nomination. The show also started a collaboration between Benj & Justin and Stacey Mindich, who comissioned the two to write and compose the show, but she later became the lead producer of Dear Evan Hansen.
2013 – Smash
Go back into the part of your brain that forgot about season two of Smash, because Benj & Justin were recruited to use their fresh talents to write songs for the fake musical The Hit List, which had more of a contemporary musical feel to it, as opposed to the Marilyn Monroe/traditional musical Bombshell. Katharine McPhee first sang this song on the show (and her version is the only one available on the soundtrack), but Jeremy Jordan sang a bit of it in a later episode, and while both versions are fantastic, I hardly ever find fault when it comes to Jeremy and his singing capabilities. It’s one of the more memorable tracks from Smash, and that’s all in part to Benj & Justin’s genius. Later, NBC head honcho (and man responsible for all those live musicals) Bob Greenblatt was so impressed with the duo that he went on to become a co-producer of Dear Evan Hansen. Speaking of which…
2015 – Dear Evan Hansen
Like Dogfight before it, Dear Even Hansen got a shitload of acclaim during its Off-Broadway run earlier this year. Unlike Dogfight, DEH has gotten its shot on Broadway, and recently opened to even more acclaim. Starring Pitch Perfect’s Ben Platt, he plays a high school student with social anxiety and his life turns upside down when his relationship to a classmate who commits suicide is misconstrued. Based on the reviews, it’s both heart-wrenching, funny, heartfelt and extremely relevant right down to its use of social media within the show. Benj & Justin collaborated with Hamilton orchestrator/arranger/musical director extraordinaire Alex Lacamoire, and in a full circle moment, the show is directed by Michael Greif, who directed the OG production of Rent. DEH has already won the dream duo an Outer Critics Circle Award, Drama Desk Award, and Obie Award, and as previously mentioned, could be the one to watch come Tony Awards.
2016 – La La Land
Director Damien Chazelle and his college friend Justin Hurwitz had been working on La La Land for years – it was even in the works before Damien won acclaim for Whiplash – and Justin had composed the music for La La Land, but needed the perfect lyricists to fill in the gaps. Enter a similar duo, Benj & Justin who penned the words to the exquisite tracks in the movie. La La Land is a movie that is about music and artistry at its core, so the hiring of Benj & Justin wasn’t just a random hiring choice. Their work *becomes a character in its own right* in the film, and critics have noticed. It’s already been a big hit in the festival circuit, and the success continues to forge on with its recent Critics Choice Awards and Golden Globe noms. It probably won’t stop when it comes Oscars time, either. While I recommend watching the movie first then listening to the soundtrack (BECAUSE IT’S SO FREAKING GOOD), you can listen to the entire soundtrack here!
2017 and Beyond
So what’s next for these two? They’ll have to navigate through awards season past June’s Tony Awards, but they already have a couple high-profile projects in the works – they’ve written all the songs for Hugh Jackman’s P.T. Barnum biopic, The Greatest Showman, and Disney also hired them to write new songs for the live-action remake of Snow White. Fun fact: Ben Platt’s dad is the producer of both La La Land and Snow White. #Fam. Something tells me Pasek & Paul are just at the very beginning and gearing up to join the ranks of Rodgers & Hammerstein – which is a very good place to start.