The songwriting team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (both b. 1985) takes its first Broadway bow with A Christmas Story, opening at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on November 19, 2012, for a limited run. The show, based on the beloved Yuletide film comedy by radio humorist Jean Shepherd, made its debut in 2010 at Seattle’s 5th Ave Theatre and enchanted audiences again at the Chicago Theater in 2011. The fast-rising creative duo made a splash off-Broadway last summer (2012) with their musical Dogfight (Joe Mantello, director, Second Stage Theatre), had signal success with James and the Giant Peach (2010, Kennedy Center’s New Visions/New Voices and the Norma Terris Theatre at Goodspeed, Graciela Daniele, director, with choreography by Pilobolus), and are working now on an all-original musical with playwright Steven Levenson.
Pasek (from the environs of Philadelphia) and Paul (from Westport, Connecticut) met as freshmen at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where both had gone to study musical theatre. Each had a solid musical background: both of Paul’s parents sang and played the piano, specializing in gospel music; Pasek’s mother was the creator of five albums of songs for and about children. Their first dramatic assignment at UMich was in the ensemble of a production of City of Angels, Pasek as the non-speaking walk-on “Man with Camera,” Paul as an Asian backup dancer. They decided together that since their mothers were going to make the trip to Ann Arbor to see their debuts upon the stage, they had better put on their own show as well. So they rented a hall, wrote their own material, and invited everyone they knew.
They called the show Edges, a Song Cycle (2005). “It was a mess, and it was unwieldy, and all those things,” says Paul, “but something about it connected with the students, the young people, and so … we thought … maybe … we’ll do this again.” It went up on YouTube and became enormously popular; Edges is now licensed by Music Theatre International and has enjoyed 200+ productions worldwide (South Korea, Australia, China, South Africa, the Philippines, Denmark, and more).
Only months after graduating with BFA degrees in Musical Theatre in 2007, the team of Pasek & Paul received the Jonathan Larson Award from the American Theatre Wing (the people who bring you the Tony Awards®) and the 2007–2008 Dramatists Guild Fellowship. In 2010 they were finalists for the Fred Ebb Award, and in 2011 they were virtually showered with honors: the ASCAP Richard Rodgers New Horizons Award, a Fellowship to the Playwrights’ Retreat at the Sundance Institute, the ASCAP Songwriters Fellowship Award, and, for their musical Dogfight, the 2011 Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theatre from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Pasek & Paul have also written material for Sesame Street, the Disney TV series (Johnny & the Sprites), and Theatreworks USA (Duck for President and If You Give a Pig a Pancake). They have been part of the Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project, and cited as one of Dramatist Magazine’s “50 to Watch.” Their songs will be heard on the upcoming season of NBC’s hit series Smash.
– Lucy E. Cross