Saturday, January 9, 2010

Really What's the Point If We're Just Coasting

Though their days at UMich aren’t long behind them, songwriting team Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have managed to make quite a splash in the musical theatre community in a relatively short amount of time. While still at UMich, they managed to write song cycle (which has received a slew of performances across the country in college and professional theaters) called Edges about four young adults coming of age as they navigate relationships, newfound responsibility, and their need for connection. One of the most inspired productions so far has been with a fabulous cast consisting of Steven Booth, Farah Alvin, Colin Hanlon, and Whitney Bashor (not to mention Gordon Greenberg directing!) at Capitol Repertory Theatre in Albany, along with a subsequent Midwest premiere at the Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts in 2008.

Having seen this music evolve over the years through countless youtube videos and clips, I have to say how impressed I am at how much their music has matured over time. While their music has always been incredibly skillful, the tightness of their lyrics, the beauty of their music, and the progression of emotion throughout these songs only seems to get better. It also helps that they have wonderful conduits that really reach into the music and pull out soul-grabbing performance with enthusiasm and attitude that make these characters pop. There are a few videos from Edges available from Pasek and Paul’s youtube channel, but my favorites are undoubtedly this humorously frank performance of “Monticello”:



And the hilarious-turned-shockingly-poignant “Along the Way”:



Surprisingly, a piece of theirs whose memory brings a smile to my face was their work for last year’s 24 Hour Musicals event, where they wrote a few songs for a ridiculous story about three doctors (also brothers) who realize the woman they are about to operate on was their old flame. Led by an all star cast consisting of Cheyenne Jackson, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Roger Bart, and Scarlett Strallen (also with a book by Rinne Groff), you can enjoy the wit and pure joy of their music, which was surprisingly written in less than 24 hours.

Part 1:


Part 2:


The duo also has written songs for the delightful children’s show, Johnny and the Sprites, and have had a couple concert appearances in recent months. More than anything, I am thrilled that their next project is an adaptation of the classic film, Dogfight, in which a group of marines attend a “dogfight,” a party in which they each compete to bring the ugliest date. With an intriguing plot and what I presume to be an insightful score to match, I think this could really be something special as a commission for Lincoln Center Theater. Then again, I feel like this clip really speaks for itself:

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