Review: Pasek and Paul Along The Way

by Jane

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are amongst New York’s fastest rising young musical theatre composers. Graduates of the musical theatre performance program at the University of Michigan, in 2007 they became the youngest recipients of the Jonathan Larson Award, and they are currently under commission from the Lincoln Center Theater: just to make the rest of us feel woefully inadequate about our achievements.

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

Along The Way at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival has the pair presenting songs from earlier works, such as the song cycle Edges, and new pieces from current works-in-progress Dogfight and James and the Giant Peach, with the duo singing their own songs, and also accompanied by Liz Callaway and Shoshanna Bean.

The show is neither autobiographical, nor a linear narrative of their development as song writes, and is rather a chance for Pasek and Paul to just play around on stage and tell stories, with no real through line. It is a wonderful format, because it is just a chance for them to celebrate their songs, taking the show wherever they choose.

From being college students playing a less-than successful cabaret show at the small-town Midwestern Kountry Krossroads (yes, with two “K”s), to now playing at the biggest (and the best!) Cabaret Festival in the world, the pair have come a long way. And the obvious growth in their music which can been seen from their early song cycle Edges through to their current adaptation of James and the Giant Peach shows that they will keep on growing into a very successful team.

While there are a few believability issues with Bean singing songs about being unattractive and frumpy, she brings a wonderful voice and actor to their music from Dogfight, and it is really delightful to hear Pasek tell the story of how he approached Bean at the Wicked stage door with a CD of his music. Also singing an “old standard”, Bean truly gets to show off her voice with “Ready To Be Loved.”

Callaway also joined in the show with a beautiful rendition of another song from Dogfight, and in probably my favourite show of the night: the act one closing song of James and the Giant Peach. While she may have been “singing a boy’s song”, I would now love nothing more than to see her play the role in the show – hey, if Peter Pan is traditionally played by a woman, why not James? (Also, Adelaide people: can’t you just see Rose Myers directing this show?)

Singing most of the songs themselves (including one written for two African-American women: the line “we grew up to be queens” is a girl lyric! we are hurriedly informed), Pasek and Paul are not only great songwriters, but are great singers and actors. From slow ballads from Paul, to more upbeat and fun songs from Pasek, the best songs are when the two are showing their collaboration not only as songwriters, but also as singers, and as friends.

Four media photos on the cab fest website, and they are really just two, at the same event. But you get a choice of black and white or colour! Fancy.

Along The Way is not only a show giving Adelaide audiences a chance to say “I knew saw them when….”, but it is primarily a great and fun show, with a very talented cast of writers and guest singers. Filled with fun stories: tales on the process of writing songs, and adventures they have with performing and presenting the songs, it is really a wonderful presentation. I can’t wait to see more from the pair.