Meet the Oscar-Winning Songwriting Duo from La La Land: Benj Pasek and Justin Paul!

Feb 27, 2017

Benj Pasek (an Ardmore native) and Justin Paul—best friends from their days at the University of Michigan—just won a 2017 Academy Award for writing the lyrics to the song "City of Stars" from the hit film La La Land. They're also Golden Globe winners!

The Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns talks with the songwriting duo, who were also nominated for a TONY Award for the new Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen.

Radio script:

All over Broadway, on ads for the new musical Dear Evan Hansen, is the catchphrase "#you will be found." But it isn’t a warning; it’s a promise, an assurance to lost high-schoolers who feel unheard and unseen. 

"Only Us" from Dear Evan Hansen:


 

[Music: Dear Evan Hansen, excerpt]

Benj Pasek: I’m so proud to be part of the theater community because it is a place that forces people to have empathy. You have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Is there some truth in someone who is not you?

DPS: Benj Pasek drew from a real-life incident he experienced growing up in Philadelphia: In 2000, a classmate at Friends Central School died, and was suddenly mourned by those who barely knew him. It’s yet another in a series of compelling, non-heroic characters—created by him and Justin Paul—who are coming to terms with their lack of specialness.

BP: We were all sort of raised with this mentality where we get a gold star for turning in our homework... we were all told we were special, and if everybody is being told they’re special is anyone special? That’s a question we’re interested in exploring.

[Music: “City of Stars” from La La Land]

DPS: It also comes up in the new film La La Land starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone—for which Pasek and Paul contributed lyrics. Though the film goes into fantasy land, the characters nearly give up on their dreams.

[Music: Dear Evan Hansen, excerpt]

DPS: Pasek and Paul are also writing for the forthcoming Hugh Jackman film, a P.T. Barnum biopic, The Greatest Showman. With their gifts for musical dramatization, they could also go into opera. But Justin Paul, for one, is devoted to the theater.

Justin Paul: We’ll never leave her for anything.

BP: There are so many stories we want to tell, still.

DPS: And now they have the clout to tell them.