An Oscar-winning lyricist and Tony-winning composer/lyricist, Justin Paul is known almost exclusively for the output of his songwriting partnership with Benj Pasek. After meeting as fledgling musical-theater majors in the mid-2000s, the pair made their Broadway debut with A Christmas Story: The Musical in 2012. Quickly building a reputation for heartfelt lyrics and both wistful and rousing melodies, the duo won their first Oscar for "City of Stars" from La La Land and their first Tony Award for Broadway's Dear Evan Hansen, both in 2017. In another first, they made their debut at the top of the Billboard 200 in 2018 with the soundtrack to the film The Greatest Showman, which featured their original songs.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri to a pastor and raised in Westport, Connecticut, Paul played piano and drums and sang in church from an early age. He attended a performing arts program at the Music Theatre of Connecticut beginning at age eight. Paul went on to earn a B.F.A. in musical theater from the University of Michigan. It was there that he met fellow theater student Benj Pasek at freshman orientation. They discovered a shared enthusiasm for the work of composer/playwright Jason Robert Brown and the musical Merrily We Roll Along and quickly began collaborating.
The first song cycle they wrote together, Edges, went viral within the musical theater-student community and was performed at schools around the country. In 2006, they won a cash prize as part of the Jonathan Larson Award, established by the Rent composer's estate to encourage writers and composers trying to break into the field. At the time only 21, they were the youngest to have won the award. After graduating from Michigan in December 2006, they found episode work for the Disney Channel series Johnny and the Sprites, a musical show for preschoolers. In 2008, after being given a week to write three songs for an audition, they were hired for a stage musical version of James and the Giant Peach. Two of those songs were used in the production, which opened in Connecticut in October 2010.
Paul's Broadway debut arrived two years later, when he and Pasek were brought in to rewrite the score for A Christmas Story: The Musical, based on the 1983 film. After a national tour, it opened on Broadway in November 2012. That same year, with a book by Peter Duchan, their musical adaptation of the 1991 film Dogfight opened off-Broadway. In 2013, the pair — who by this time were referred to as the alphabetical Pasek & Paul — contributed multiple songs to the Broadway-themed ABC prime-time series Smash.
An original stage musical about a high-schooler with social anxiety disorder, the songwriting team's Dear Evan Hansen premiered in Washington, D.C. in July 2015. Its off-Broadway debut took place the following spring, and it opened on Broadway in December 2016. Receiving a wide release that same month, the movie musical La La Land featured lyrics by Pasek & Paul. A romance about a jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) and an aspiring actress (Emma Stone), its music was by Whiplash's Justin Hurwitz. La La Land's soundtrack reached number two on the Billboard 200 and number one in the U.K. and Spain. The film was nominated for 14 Academy Awards, winning six including Best Original Song for Hurwitz, Pasek, and Paul's "City of Stars." Their song "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" had also been nominated. In the meantime, Dear Even Hansen was a box office hit, and its original Broadway cast recording debuted at number eight on the Billboard 200, then the highest debut for a cast album since 1961 (Camelot). It received nine Tony nominations and won six, including Best Score and Best Musical.
Sung by Anna Kendrick, Pasek & Paul also contributed the song "Get Back Up Again" to the 2016 animated film Trolls. In 2017, their tunes could be heard in the musical biopic The Greatest Showman, about P.T. Barnum. With a cast that included Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, and Zendaya, its soundtrack album generated four Hot 100 singles and reached the top of the Billboard 200 in early 2018. ~ Marcy Donelson