They Have Been Found! Chronicling the Career of Pasek and Paul Through Their Music
Momma Rose may soon have to change her tune.... 'cause lately, it seems like everything's coming up Pasek and Paul!
With a hotly-anticipated film project on the rise, a much-lauded Oscar win that put them on the map, and the recent announcement that their inaugural Broadway musical will be the next to be broadcast live across the globe (and they'll be contributing new music and lyrics!!) -- all amidst the buzz surrounding their award-winning mega-musical that simultaneously set Broadway ablaze and left it broken on the ground, there's no denying the incomparable power duo has had quite the banner year.
And it can get better still, as the pair is favored to emerge victorious in the Best Score category at this Sunday's Tony Awards, one of nine nominations for the groundbreaking show as a whole.
Will they do it? Only time will tell.... but we believe their monumental year is cause for celebration regardless.
From stage to film to television, ballads to up-tempos, big, flashy dance numbers to stand-alone park-and-barks, this pair has done it all. So, to toast their success ahead of Broadway's biggest night, we've compiled a list of our faves, each complete with clips and commentary, that we feel expertly exemplify their range and versatility. (Though it's in no way definitive, so feel free to chime in with your thoughts!!)
So, join us on a journey to the past (whoops, wrong songwriters!) with this walk down memory lane and see for yourself why Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are undoubtedly considered two of the greatest musical theatre artists of our time.
#1 "NOTHING SHORT OF WONDERFUL" (DOGFIGHT): The duo took the industry by storm with their breakout hit, DOGFIGHT, based on Nancy Savoca's 1991 film, when it first premiered Off-Broadway in 2012. The story follows Private First Class Eddie Birdlace and his U.S. Marine buddies, who commemorate their last night of leave before shipping out to Vietnam with the debaucherous "dogfight" of the title. The rules are simple: each participant throws in 50 bucks, and the one who brings the ugliest date to the bash wins the pot.
Eddie's choice, Rose Fenny, is a waitress at the local diner; awkward and introverted, she obviously has no idea of his plan, and is simply overjoyed to have been asked out at all.
She expresses her happiness through song, which, thanks to the pair's uncanny ability to tap into the mind of a 20-something delirious over her invite to a public event ("like a bird how you lift, and your chest feels a pull") and a powerful performance from Broadway mainstay Lindsay Mendez, produces a beautifully intricate, and unexpectedly moving, result.
If you know the show and story, look for subtle clues buried within the writing. The way she giddily anticipates how the evening could end, paired with telling lyrics such as "Just be you... he won't care what you wear," and the constant repetition of how he is (and she'll be) "nothing short of wonderful," packs a particularly poignant punch in hindsight, considering the outcome and how it all unfurls.
Intrigued? We thought you might be! Sure, your room is in heaps and you can't see the floor, but that shouldn't stop you from giving the song a listen. Click the video below and enjoy! Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!
#2 "YOU'LL SHOOT YOUR EYE OUT!" (A CHRISTMAS STORY): Pasek and Paul earned their first trip to the Tonys with their musical adaptation of the holiday classic, A CHRISTMAS STORY, for which they received a nod for Best Score. The story follows inquisitive, bespectacled Ralphie, who desperately hopes to find a "Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun" under the tree on December 25th. Unfortunately, the various adults in his life are quick to veto his appeal; among them is his teacher, Ms. Shields (a winning Caroline O'Connor, appearing this season in the Tony-nominated ANASTASIA), who cautions him against the dangers of his wish like only she can.
Having wowed us with the rock-pop vibes of DOGFIGHT, the duo do a complete 360, and give us traditional Broadway at its best, transforming a simple - yet iconic - line from the beloved 1983 film into a full-on, glam-and-glitzy production number (spurred on by Ralphie's fear-induced break with reality, after receiving a less-than-perfect grade on his Christmas theme paper), complete with a host of happy-tappy youngsters (keep an eye on Luke Spring in particular, who dazzles with an impeccable tap routine), and a high-kickin', gussied up, flapper-esque Ms. Shields.
Check out the delusional dream-induced extravaganza, plucked from the 2013 Tony Awards telecast, below... and from now on, watch where you shoot!
P. S. We couldn't mention this number and not point out Benj and Justin's remarkable aptitude for rhyming the impossible, Listen closely... what they do with the word "retina" is beyond brilliant!
#3 "REWRITE THIS STORY" (SMASH): Following their premiere Broadway triumph, the pair made quite a "smash" on the hit NBC musical drama of the same name, recruited in Season 2 to contribute music and lyrics to HIT LIST, the edgier, rock-pop counterpart to the series' more traditional BOMBSHELL. Written within the series by songwriters Jimmy Collins (Jeremy Jordan) and Kyle Bishop (Andy Mientus) the show-within-the-show features, among others, three songs by our dynamic duo. One of which, the opener to Collins and Bishop's pièce de résistance, expertly intertwines the HIT LIST scenario, which finds characters Jesse (Jimmy) and Amanda (Karen Cartwright, played by IDOL alum Katharine McPhee) looking to hit the reset button, with the stories of their portrayers: Jimmy struggles to come to terms with the fact that he must compromise his own integrity for the sake of the show's success, while Karen re-evaluates her own decisions, wants and needs, having abruptly left the bright lights of Broadway to support her friends in a financially unstable (but exciting) new venture.
With its haunting medley and compelling concepts of reinvention, this song is no doubt the ultimate theme for anyone who feels "lost without a way," desperately yearning to wipe that slate clean. Hang in there... it'll all be okay in the end... I promise!!! In the meantime, rock out to the chilling SMASH chart-topper (and, naturally, ogle over Jeremy Jordan!!) in the video below!
#4 "MIDDLE OF A MOMENT" (JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH): As we all know by now, the powerhouse duo is particularly adept at providing a musical voice for the tortured, troubled soul. Before they struck gold with the title character in their current, smash hit Broadway blockbuster, they hit a home run with the titular James, of their acclaimed adaptation of the 1961 Roald Dahl novel, JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH.
Their musical treatment breathes new life into the character, who's desperate to break free from the clutches of his conniving, demonic aunts.
Aided by a pitch-perfect performance from child phenom Luca Padovan, the pair's carefully chosen, yet complex, set of lyrics flesh him out from beyond the page, enabling us to empathize and relate to his internal struggle (and subsequently follow him through his journey to a solution) in a way we couldn't through just reading the book alone.
I mean, haven't you ever felt lost and defeated, stuck in a rut, like you "can't crawl out of where you are," before being hit with that rush of momentum that continually builds and builds, until you push through your barriers, bubbling over with a renewed sense of confidence, having finally realized "you're on your way?" Yep... James Henry Trotter is our #spiritanimal and we have absolutely no shame in making it known.
Exclusively licensed by MTI, the "plump and juicy" new musical has enjoyed success both regionally and in schools across the country, since its official premiere at Seattle Children's Theatre in November 2013. Now, that's all well and good, but the question still remains: when will this succulent, circular fruit sail itself onto the Great White Way... and what are the chances we can get little Luca (who's really not that little anymore) to reprise his role?! (For now, we'll have to settle with his melodious pipes on the album... and as said before, they don't disappoint! Click below and have a listen for yourself!)
#5 "GET BACK UP AGAIN" (TROLLS): We know it's not technically (or really, in any way at all) part of Pasek and Paul's storied stage career, but we couldn't resist including this infectious anthem, calling for bravery and perseverance in times of crisis, in our (un)official list of P&P faves!!
Written for the 2016 animated DreamWorks film TROLLS, and featuring INTO THE WOODS standout Anna Kendrick (who really should return to Broadway imminently BTW), the tune serves as a mantra for young princess Poppy (Kendrick) who, off on a quest to save her fellow trolls from the evil unhappy Bergens (who'll eat them to acquire happiness of their own), recites it to counter a myriad of unfathomable setbacks that inevitably come her way. (I mean, "nevertheless, she persisted," amirite?)
With the trying times we're livin' in, we could all use Poppy's enlightening song of strength, so why wait a moment longer? Warm up those voices and click the video below! And the next time the universe "knocks, knocks you over"... well... the song pretty much answers that for you.
#6 "A LOVELY NIGHT" (LA LA LAND): Sure, you might have thought when choosing a song from the 2016 history-making film, we would've gone with one of the Oscar nominees - "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" or the eventual winner, "City of Stars." But this surprisingly less-ballyhooed (but equally brilliant) gem displays the first sparks of an eventual relationship that pretty much drives the plot of the entire movie (and it's upbeat!), so we thought it'd be ideal to include in our catalogue.
While they're off duty as composers for this one (that element's the genius of Oscar winner Justin Hurwitz), the duo, nonetheless, prove to be masters of the meet-cute, crafting sharp and witty lyrics that resonate with the millennials of today ("Maybe this appeals to someone not in heels" and "I think I'll be the one to make that call" among the most prime examples), while simultaneously evoking that carefree spirit and old-fashioned charm so often aligned with the movie musicals of yesteryear. Throw in a dash of dynamic choreography and the dulcet tones of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone... and you've got a lovely night (and lovelier tune!) indeed. Don't waste it... click below and enjoy! And, if doing that should send you flying off the ground and into a LA LA LAND YouTube super-spiral (remember, they wrote lyrics for every song in the film!), we certainly wouldn't oppose. After all, at the end of the day, all we're looking for is love.... and these P&P selections are chock-full of it. Enjoy! #HerestotheFoolsWhoDream
#7 "RUNNIN' HOME TO YOU" (THE FLASH): Pasek and Paul penned this number for the CW series' much-hyped musical episode, which also served as a crossover with that network's SUPERGIRL. When the Music Meister (HEDWIG's Darren Criss) shows up on Earth-1 and attacks Barry to "teach him a lesson," our titular hero finds himself in an alternate universe where life is a musical, which he must live through in its entirety in order to successfully escape. Doomed to "follow the script" or die out completely - both in this alt-reality and in the real world - he reluctantly complies. (Unbeknownst to him, it's really a plot to get Barry to realize his true feelings for ex-girlfriend Iris West, with whom he split in the previous episode). So, when a mission within the musical helps him to realize his mistake -- and that awareness intensifies when a plot point goes awry -- Barry knows what he must do to set things right. Thus, he proposes to her with this original P&P song. What happens next? Is Barry fulfilled? Does Iris say "yes"? Guess you'll have to click the video below and find out!
#8 "WAVING THROUGH A WINDOW" (DEAR EVAN HANSEN): Did you honestly think it would be anything else? Yes, it's the show's go-to song at nearly every press event, talkback and late night appearance. But why shouldn't it be? Its message is extremely powerful (evident by the plethora of YouTube covers that flood the Interwebs week in and week out), and simply put, the number - coincidentally, the first single to be released off the album - is utter perfection in every way.
It's just like we said with James: who among us can't relate to that awkward, social outcast.... stuck in a rut, desperate for attention, and feeling like he's forever "on the outside, always looking in"? We sure can, and that's why this song was a no-brainer for inclusion.
If their previous work has confirmed them as established musicians, worthy of respect and adoration within the community, this score (and this song, in particular) has cemented their status as legendary, and elevated them toward the ranks of the Broadway elite. And the best part is - as long as everyone keeps their envelopes in order - we could very well see them "tap, tap, tapping" all the way to the coveted Winner's Circle on Tony night. Throw in the inevitable victory for the man who effortlessly breathes life into these words eight times a week.... and lives to tell the tale?! Boom. Mic drop. That's all she wrote. And y'all thought history was happening in Manhattan last season. Listen to Ben Platt's spellbinding, emotional delivery of the DEH earworm below!
Other Faves and Must-Listens: "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" (LA LA LAND), "Caught in the Storm" (SMASH), "City of Stars" (LA LA LAND), The Complete Score of EDGES, "First Date / Last Night" (DOGFIGHT), "Floating Along" (JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH), "For Forever" (DEAR EVAN HANSEN), "Pretty Funny" (DOGFIGHT), "Shake It Up" (JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH), "Someone In the Crowd" (LA LA LAND), "Welcome Home" (JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH), "You Will Be Found" (DEAR EVAN HANSEN)
So, how did we do? Did we get it right? Any we left off that you feel were criminal to overlook? Feel free to tweet us with your thoughts, and share your own "list of faves" if you're inclined! And, of course, be sure to tune into the Tony Awards, this Sunday at 8PM EST on CBS, for a cavalcade of Pasek and Paul goodness, including a performance from the Dear Evan Hansen cast.... and a very likely inaugural victory for our talented songwriting pair! Have fun, and we'll see you there!
Pasek and Paul Collage Photo Credit: dirty sugar / dirtysugarphotography.com