They Deserve a Win: How Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are changing musical theatre


A Christmas Story: the Musical

There is something about that magic moment of a performance when the curtain first rises and the lights dim. This split second of anticipation is the stuff that spine tingles are made of. The art of creating such a moment in an audience is a tough talent to come by and something that few writers can inspire in their audience.

Enter songwriting team Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who have a knack for creating that feeling over and over in their productions. As their shows begin, audience members have the distinct sense that they are about to experience something very special. When the curtain does at last rise, they find themselves immersed in diverse, perky scores unlike anything they’ve heard before. Pasek and Paul’s fresh musical style is impossible to ignore, especially for the Tony nominating committee. The pair has received praise from theatre fans for years, but as first-time Tony nominees this season, they are receiving the highest level of recognition a Broadway writer could be honored with. If there were ever any question of whether Pasek and Paul have arrived, there is no longer a single doubt.

Their work on the music and lyrics of A Christmas Story: the Musical earned them a nomination for Best Original Score. Alongside book writer Joseph Robinette, they brought a classic American tale to the stage. This onstage adaptation of the 1983 film tells of childhood in the 1940s as nine-year-old Ralphie Parker celebrates Christmas in a much more innocent era. The show opened in Seattle in 2010 and toured the country in 2011. By 2012, A Christmas Story: the Musical was Broadway bound. It opened at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater on November 19 of that year. The musical’s limited holiday season run created a buzz among fans and critics alike. Pasek and Paul’s cheerful score paired perfectly with Ralphie’s rambunctious antics. A Christmas Story: the Musical also received Tony nominations for Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical, as well as numerous Outer Critics Circle Award and Drama Desk Award nominations.

Pasek and Paul began working together while they were classmates at the University of Michigan. Their 2007 win of the Jonathan Larson Award served as an indicator of the great things that lay in the artists’ future. Their song cycle Edges, written while still college students, was a break-out hit. It continues to be loved and regularly performed by singers across the country. Their work spans from music on Johnny and the Sprites to a musical adaptation of James and the Giant Peach. The duo also wrote the opening theme of The Battery’s Down, children’s musicals and a piece for the 24 Hour Musical benefit.


Katharine McPhee sings Pasek & Paul’s “Rewrite This Story” on Smash

The team’s songs regularly reached living rooms nationwide this past year in Smash. Their driving tune “Rewrite This Story,” along with “Original” and “Caught in the Storm” were a hit among fans.

Pasek and Paul’s adaptation of the 1991 film Dogfight premiered off-Broadway in 2012 and was nominated for countless awards. The much-anticipated Dogfight Original Cast Album was released in spring of this year.

Their fellow nominees for Best Original Score are Trey Anastasia and Amanda Green (Hands on a Hardbody), Cyndi Lauper (Kinky Boots) and Tim Minchin (Matilda the Musical). No matter what the end results are on awards night, Pasek and Paul are in amazing company. Their consistency and seemingly endless stream of inspiration has proven that they are gem with more great original work up their sleeves. As they churn out one powerful score after another over the years, it seems that their sense of possibility is endless.

Pasek and Paul have a rare spark that engages audiences in a way few others can. Their energetic optimism brings life into their lyrics and melodies and hits that special spot in a theatergoer’s heart that reminds them why they love musicals in the first place. Their work creates the kind of surge of emotions that Broadway fans have forever tried to explain to friends who aren’t interested in the arts, but have failed to find words. Little can describe that kind of magic, but it’s the reason people fall in love with theatre in the first place – and Pasek and Paul are some of the gems behind creating it.

Every now and then, a song practically grabs you by the lapels and pulls you out of your seat. Pasek and Paul’s creative, comedic scores and emotional honesty have the ability to do exactly that. Such talent comes around just a few times each generation. They make the music world a better place. This Tony nomination is just the beginning, and we can’t wait to see the ways they’ll inspire and move us next.

About Claire H.

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

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