What does Utah have to do with The Greatest Showman?

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are two names that are becoming well known in the film industry for writing music. Paul and Pasek are a duo composition team that has a Tony, an Oscar and a Grammy already under their belts with only a few music labels to their name.

Their latest big hit, The Greatest Showman, has turned them into rockstars among theater lovers. One such place where musical theater is highly adored is Utah, to which Pasek and Paul credit much of their success.

The Greatest Showman actually has a connection to Utah,” said Paul during a performance Feb. 28 in the Lockhart Arena as part of the Roots of Knowledge Lecture Series.

Justin Paul and Benj Pasek credit Utah to their success with The Greatest Showman.

He shared how The Greatest Showman was screened in various cities during post production. One of the cities was Salt Lake City, which broke all of the charts for the musical film.

“It’s because of you, Utah, that we even have The Greatest Showman,” Paul said.

This isn’t Pasek and Paul’s first time coming to UVU. The duo came to the university nearly seven years ago to speak to the Utah Theater Association.

“We felt like we had stumbled upon this insane musical theater haven that we had no idea existed,” Paul said.

During their stay at UVU, they took time to host a critique workshop for performing students. Students from local high schools and UVU performed various musical numbers, some of which were original songs written by the students. After each performance, Pasek and Paul would critique each performance and give professional advice.

Justin Paul giving tips to one of the student performers.

One such performer was Mikelle Shaw, a junior majoring in theater at UVU, who performed a song that told the story of a woman pushing away her abuser out of her life. Pasek and Paul helped her to visualize what she needed to feel as she sang the song, as if she was that woman pushing away her abuser.

“It was exciting and humbling having them critique me,” said Shaw. “A lot of what they said felt like what we are taught here in the performing arts at UVU. Their feedback is very similar to what my professors teach us.”

Paul and Pasek singing “Rewrite the Stars” from The Greatest Showman.
Singers from the children’s choir applaud after singing “This Is Me” along with Paul and Pasek.

The duo finished their stay in Utah with a performance of some of the songs they had written for Broadway, La La Land and The Greatest Showman. They shared stories from their rough start in showbiz while working on the play James and the Giant Peach, to sharing insights about how they got to where they are today and encouraged students to pursue theater and music.

“Give yourself permission to be who you want to be,” Pasek told the audience at the close of the concert. “Sometimes you have to write your own part in your story.”

Benj Pasek speaks to the audience about pursuing dreams.

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