BWW Review: PASEK AND PAUL Concert-Lecture at Utah Valley University

BWW Review: PASEK AND PAUL Concert-Lecture at Utah Valley University

Some kinda time, / Livin' it large, / Makin' noise because the boys are now in charge. / Some kinda time, / Cut all our strings, we'll be kings for an evening. / Gonna be having some kinda time.

Utah Valley University was able to snag Benj Pasek and Justin Paul for its Roots of Knowledge speaker series. And for audience members, it was some kinda time.

Paul and Pasek are red hot, one notch away from an EGOT. They are highly regarded for "La La Land" (an Oscar and two Grammys), "Dear Evan Hansen" (Tony and Grammy) and recently for "A Christmas Story" (Emmy nomination, but no win). And "The Greatest Showman" propelled them to a new level in the stratosphere. (With "Showman" back-to-back Oscar wins, they would join Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer and Howard Ashman.)

At UVU press conference.
At UVU press conference.

At the combined concert-lecture, the fresh-faced duo was self-effacing, charming and completely entertaining. Appropriately enough, they began the evening by singing a tune from the off-Broadway show that first put them on the map, "Dogfight," a modest success at its 2012 Second Stage Theatre premiere.

With Paul seated at a heavily smudged and fingerprinted grand piano and Pasek onstage at a mic just in from of him, audiences thrilled with performances of "Floating Along" ("James and the Giant Peach"); "City of Stars" ("La La Land"), written on a plane en route to The Big Orange to meet potential collaborators; "Waving Through a Window" ("Dear Evan Hansen"); and a few other songs in my excitement I didn't scribble down. Showing their newness to live performing, Pasek and Paul occasional broke their performance to marvel at their large projected images on the screen at the rear of the stage.

While they insisted that they were "zero out of three threats," Paul and Pasek began their careers as musical theater actors, at the University of Michigan. But when a cast list notified of their very minor roles in "City of Angels," they turned to songwriting, and a series of songs became "Edges."

Expanding the Tony-acceptance quote made famous by Ben Platt ("The things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful"), one of them advised: "Don't be stuck in a single identify. Don't be afraid to grow and change and evolve" (though that might not be a direct quote).

Seven years ago, Paul and Pasek were campus guests when they were speakers at a Utah Theater Association conference, and learned the fervency of Utah theatergoers when they "suddenly stumbled upon this insane musical theater haven."

"Showman" was test-screened in Utah, we learned, well before the film's special-effects and final cut edits (and before Zac Efron's dance double replaced his valiant efforts at professionalism), and audience reaction to the first publicly shown version was unprecedentedly off the charts. Their response when it was identified where the screening was held: "Oh, we've been to Utah. That explains it."

Yet they were genuinely shocked when so many audience members could easily sing along. "They know the lyrics better than we do, and we wrote those lyrics."

BWW Review: PASEK AND PAUL Concert-Lecture at Utah Valley University
The composers graciously agreed to Meet and Greet photos
after the event. With Pasek and Paul and this writer identified are
(from left) Mara Hinton, Utah Theater Lovers Manager Shannon
Herrera and UVU publicist Tyler Hinton.

Another amusing anecdote: stalking Cyndi Lauper during the 2016 Tony season and attending even awards events they were invited to and be recognized by the "Kinky Boots" musician, only to be greeted by Cyndi-esque retorts ("Oh, hello, boys," in ax exasperated sigh).

BWW Review: PASEK AND PAUL Concert-Lecture at Utah Valley University
With Utah Theater Lovers' Founder/
Director Megan Guiterrez, in a few
pieces of her finest DEH regalia.

Pasek struggled to identify the distinction between a theater song -- a verb or an emotion -- and a pop song -- a noun or an adjective. It made complete sense to the songwriters, but the concept was less clear to their most ardent listeners. But they failed to recognize a strength of their writings, beautifully combining the strengths of each song type into a wholly new concoction.

Even after moving this Roots of Knowledge to the largest campus facility available, the event was sold out and a wait list was begun.

At a recent series event, audiences were delighted by the talented and up-and-coming composer Michael Mott ("The Don, A Mafia Comedy," "In the Light," workshopped at UVU), a protégé of Frank Wildhorn. We're now asking: Who's next -- Stephen Sondheim? Cole Porter, risen from the grave?

Whoever orchestrated this stunning booking (Stephen M. Pullen? Traci Hainsworth? the team of Chris Meek and Courtney McKinnon? Or maybe Kevin Goertzen?), come annual review time, give 'em a raise.


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From This Author Blair Howell