Melody Monday: Pasek and Paul: Up and coming musical writers prove their fresh new sounds

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are an award-winning songwriting team headed for great things. If they’re not already on everyone’s radar, they certainly should be.

It’s been a busy few months for these two. With their music hitting the small screen on Smash their work is now reaching a wider audience than ever before. Their song “Caught in the Storm” premiered on Smash’s second season as a piece written by Jeremy Jordan’s character, Jimmy Collins.

Pasek and Paul started their songwriting careers together at the University of Michigan. They both received BFAs from Michigan’s prestigious musical theatre program. After graduating, they continued collaborating with college classmates when fellow UMich grad Jake Wilson launched his musical web series The Battery’s Down. Pasek and Paul wrote the theme song for the comedy about the hijinks of a struggling New York City actor, played by Jake, and his quirky group of friends.

This winter, they made their Broadway debut with A Christmas Story: The Musical! The musical played a limited run at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in November in December of 2012 after premiering in Seattle and touring the United States.

In July of last year, their musical Dogfight, based on the 1991 film, premiered at the Second Stage Theatre off-Broadway. The show earned them wide acclaim and the Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theater. Pasek and Paul also wrote the score for the stage version of James and the Giant Peach, a Goodspeed Musicals production that premiered in 2010.

The Battery's Down

The Battery’s Down

While Smash is creating a major buzz, it is not the team’s first foray into television. They also wrote music for the Disney cartoon Johnny and the Sprites, a show that stars another beloved name in musical theatre – John Tartaglia. The two have also written children’s musicals for Theatreworks USA. They penned Dr. Williams, a one-night show that starred Cheyenne Jackson and Jesse Tyler Ferguson. They also can be found in the documentary One Night Stand. The film explores the process behind Dr. Williams, which was created for the annual 24 Hour Musicals benefit.

Pasek and Paul have accomplished quite a bit, but it seems that their most-loved work of all is their song cycle Edges. The show that started it all, Edges was written during their college years in Ann Arbor, MI. “Create your own part” is some of the best advice that could be given to an actor or to anyone navigating through life and waiting to catch a break. Edges was born out of this notion, which makes its widespread success that much sweeter. Surrounded by a talented campus, they wrote a show of their own to stand out. The rest is history.

Edges premiered in April 2005 and its music was suddenly touching lives all over the world. The song cycle explores the struggles of transitioning into adult life and the search for love and belonging.

Edges is a staple in the world of cabaret and university productions as well as a go-to for material on the audition circuit. It has been produced all over the world, in countries like Australia, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Canada and the Philippines, on hundreds of different stages.

Luckily for Edge-heads (the nickname for Edges fans), multiple productions of the song cycle can be seen on YouTube. For all the headaches social media can cause, it certainly does a lot of good for up-and-coming musical theatre writers and even more so for fans. Edges includes well-loved songs like “Be My Friend” (also known as the famous “Facebook Song”), “Perfect,” “Like Breathing,” I Once Knew,” “Lying Here” and the hilarious “In Short.”

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

Pasek and Paul have received a host of honors very early in their careers, including the Songwriter’s Fellowship Award, the Sundance Institute Fellowship and the Dramatists Guild Fellowship. In 2007, they were the youngest people to ever receive the Jonathan Larson Award for promising new songwriters.

A widespread dialogue in the theatre world seems to be that the days of truly original work on Broadway are coming to an end. For the past few years, the Great White Way has been overflowing with revivals and scores that have been around for decades. While those are wonderful in their own right, it sometimes gives fans the impression that unique, creative new productions are a thing of the past. Writers like Pasek and Paul, with their fresh sound and talent that speaks for itself, offer a glimmer of the future of musical theatre. It sure is looking bright.

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About Claire H.

Writer, performer, picture-taker, New Yorker. Find me on Twitter at @Claire_Hannum.

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