They failed their way into Broadway triumph


OK, we're back. A technical glitch caused this to go blank for two weeks. I was still sending stories and columns to papers, but the Web site was in limbo. Now it's all set; I've put the stories and columns back here, even if -- like this one -- they're a tad outdated now.

By Mike Hughes

There's something to
be said for failing at a good school.

It helps you find
your true field. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul can tell you that; “we
bonded over our failure,” Paul said.

Now they're hot
songwriters. Their “Christmas Story” will be live Sunday on Fox
.... three days before their “The Greatest Showman,” with Hugh
Jackman, reaches theaters. They've won a Tony for best musical (“Dear
Evan Hansen”) and an Oscar for best song (“City of Stars,” from
“La La Land”).

These composers,
both 32, reached the University of Michigan's prestigious
musical-theater program from opposite parts of the country – Pasek
from Philadelphia, Paul from St. Louis. Then things crashed.

“We quickly
learned that we were the two worst ballet dancers in our class,”
Pasek said.

They had dreamed of
being singer-dancer-actors. Pasek was cast once, as “man with
camera”; Paul said he was cast as a backup dancer, “and I
couldn't even dance.”

Instead, they began
writing songs together. (Paul, a pianist, leans toward the music,
Pasek toward the lyrics) and scored. In 2005, “Edges” -- a
collection of their songs – debuted near the campus; two years
later, they won the Jonathan Larson Award for young composers.

Broadway was tough;
their “Christmas Story” had a brief run in 2012, getting
nominations for best musical and its score. TV was more promising;
they wrote for “Smash,” “Johnny and the Sprites” and the
“Flash” musical episode.

Then “La La Land”
and “Dear Evan Hansen” soared. “All of a sudden, we were a lot
smarter in meetings,” Pasek jokes.

Apparently.
Hollywood hired them to do some of the songwriting for Jackman's
Barnum movie and for Disney's upcoming, live-action versions of
“Aladdin” and “Snow White.” And now their “Christmas Story”
-- with some new songs – has its TV moment.

-- “A Christmas
Story Live,” 7-10 p.m. Sunday, Fox.

-- Benj Pasek and
Justin Paul have added new songs to their 2012 musical (based on the
1983 movie), including an opener sung by Bebe Rexha.

-- In addition to
its young actor, it stars Matthew Broderick, Maya Rudolph, Jane
Krakowski, more.