Interview with Tony nominees Pasek and Paul
Recently the New York Theatre Guide attended The 32nd Annual Lucille Lortel Awards and caught up with perhaps the hottest song-writing duo in entertainment right now - Benj Pasek and Justin Paul - the Tony-nominated composers of Dear Evan Hansen, which continues to play to full houses at Broadway's Music Box Theatre.
The duo previously made their Broadway debut with A Christmas Story The Musical at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in 2012 and made their off-Broadway debut with Dogfight at Second Stage Theatre earlier that same year 2012.
Away from the stage, the duo wrote the songs for the smash hit movie La La Land and even picked up an Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Original Song for "City of Stars" this year. The song "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" also earned them a second Oscar nomination. They have also written music for DreamWorks Animation's Trolls, as well as the Broadway-centric TV series Smash and DC Comics' The Flash. They have also been linked to the upcoming movie musical The Greatest Showman and a Disney live action re-make of Snow White.
Thomas Hayden Millward: Congratulations on all the success and accolades bestowed upon Dear Evan Hansen thus far, guys! It must have felt like a long time coming for you?
Benj Pasek: Well, this is the show that we started working on when we were in college together! So, yes it was a loooooong time ago!
Justin Paul: Yes, it was unfortunately a long time ago. It’s been many, many years since college, but thinking back to a year plus ago, when we first did the show at Second Stage [off-Broadway], it’s really fun because the timing of it meant that we would be eligible this year for the Lucille Lortel Awards, so it’s really special to come back a year later and be celebrating that run and the tremendous gift Second Stage gave us by allowing us to do this production and working on the show. It feels long in a good way because we got time to work on the show every step of the way. That’s a real gift as writers.
THM: And of course I saw you guys at the Academy Awards, winning an Oscar for “La La Land”… as you do. Are award ceremonies becoming a little run-of-the-mill for you two nowadays?
BP: (Laughs) Well, we majored in musical theatre in college. We were BFAs [Bachelors of Fine Arts] wanting to sing and tap dance one day on stage. So, the fact that we get to be here [at the Lucille Lortel Awards] and be with all the theatre stars is really exciting for us. We’re thrilled that we get to be a part of this community. Facebook just reminded us that four years ago we were here for ‘Dogfight’ – our show that was also at Second Stage. Off-Broadway and the theatre community has always been incredibly kind to us and we feel really lucky to be here.
THM: And I know Broadway and off-Broadway feels lucky to have you. Now, I believe the story behind ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ was inspired by a real event that happened at your school, Benj?
BP: Yes, it’s loosely based on some real experiences of mine in high school, but obviously when Justin and I started to talk about some of the themes we wanted to explore from that event and when we were paired with the phenomenally talented playwright Steven Levenson, who we feel so fortunate to have written the show with, we began to find an actual plot to go along with those themes. Just like Evan Hansen, it sort of deviates from actual truth in service of – hopefully – a good story.
THM: I was really quite moved when I saw the show because one of my best friends suffers from severe social anxiety and it was so refreshing to see that issue addressed with a lead character in a Broadway musical, who has prescribed medication for the condition. Do you hear positive feedback from others who are also suffering?
JP: Wow. Well, whether it’s at the theatre or in emails or letters, we do hear from people who are touched and feel that the show is resonating with them. They feel like they are represented on stage. That’s a really special thing. I think there’s no greater gift to receive as a writer than to know that something you have written has resonated with someone who maybe feels like your friend and maybe feels like they haven’t been represented before. Now there is someone like them on stage. We owe that as much to the cast because they are so authentic and so real in their portrayals of these characters. I think everyone can relate to them because they are so true to life.
THM: Now, I’ve heard the rumours about a Broadway adaptation of “La La Land.” What can you tell me? Give me something!
BP: (Laughs) Honestly, we know as much as you do.
JP: That is the gospel truth! There is a concert coming up at the end of this month on Memorial Day in LA. That’s gonna be at the Hollywood Bowl and it’ll have a live orchestra playing along with the movie. Maybe that will be a nice sneak peek at what could come. But it is very much a “could” as far as we know. We’ll probably be the last to find out! (Laughs)
BP: We had a great collaboration with the composer Justin Hurwitz and [writer/director] Damien Chazelle. So, if they came knocking, we would definitely answer the door.