Children are the Future
Without sounding too much like a Whitney Houston song, I believe that children are the future. Current audiences are only going to be current for so long until they are taken over by those who are currently children – something which Tony-nominated songwriters Pasek & Paul are already considering.
Contemporary songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have been called the ‘heirs of Rogers & Hammerstein’ by Vanity Fair. And with good reason! They are the composers behind Off Broadway musical Dogfight, critically acclaimed song cycle Edges, had original songs performed on Season 2 of NBC’s SMASH and had their works featured on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The View, Good Morning America and many more.
And if that wasn’t enough they have also been the recipients of numerous prestigious musical theatre awards – including being the youngest ever recipients of the Jonathan Larson Award.
But that isn’t where their most exciting work is happening. It is happening with children and families through their Tony-nominated production of A Christmas Story (which has returned to New York with a Christmas season at Madison Square Gardens) and a new production of James and the Giant Peach. And I had the pleasure of having some of my questions answered by the pair.
How important is it to make new shows targeted at families and children to get new people into the theatre?
Pasek & Paul: Extremely important. We credit Menken and Ashman’s work on many of the iconic Disney films (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, etc.) as one of the main reasons why our generation grew up accepting and loving the musical theatre art form. Appealing to children and families is a great way to make musical theatre accessible and exciting to a new generation and we would love to be part of that tradition.
First A Christmas Story then James and the Giant Peach, how do you go about converting a popular movie into a musical?
Pasek & Paul: With both of these source materials, we were lucky to have elements of fantasy as part of the storytelling. In James and the Giant Peach, we have a world that is larger than life, filled with magic mysterious men, giant talking bugs and flying peaches. For A Christmas Story, we have a boy’s imagination where he fantasizes about being a cowboy. Because of these breaks in reality it allowed us to find natural places for musical moments where characters could break into song. That was a great starting point for both stories – finding the moments that were larger than life.
This is certainly the right direction for musical theatre. While family-targeted offerings shouldn’t dominate the market, there needs to be the opportunity for children to grow up with exposure to the musical theatre art form. Especially when it comes to risk! Children are generally not risk averse – that is why they are quite content to eat dirt.
And if they interact with the theatre from a young age, that means as they grow up they will become more comfortable with the theatre and will not be turned away from a new show because it is seen as ‘too risky’ (a problem which can arise with the current theatre demographic). Ultimately allowing more boundaries to be pushed and the theatrical art form to grow to a point where it can satisfy the needs of new theatregoers who previously wouldn’t have considered going to the theatre, without alienating those that currently attend.
On a side note, for those of you who were entranced by their edgy and contemporary songs for the fictional musical Hit List on NBC’s SMASH, never fear . . .
Pasek & Paul: We are actually working on a totally original book musical with a contemporary score. We’re collaborating with playwright Steven Levenson and director Michael Grief (Rent, Next to Normal, the upcoming If/Then) and we’re planning on having a reading of the show sometime in 2014.
Check out this Tony Award performance from A Christmas Story: