OREM — Producers of “The Greatest Showman” knew they had a hit after testing the film at a special screening to an audience in Salt Lake City.
The film scored “off the charts,” according to songwriter Justin Paul. That didn’t shock Paul and his writing partner Benj Pasek, who said they first learned of Utah’s obsession with all things musical theater after speaking at the Utah Theater Association conference seven years ago.
“We remember feeling like we had suddenly stumbled upon this insane musical theater haven that we had no idea existed,” Paul said Monday at a press conference at Utah Valley University. So, when Pasek and Paul heard the high scores came from a Utah screening, “We were like, 'Guys, you need to temper your scores a little bit because they are prone to love us, and prone to love musical theater,'” Paul said.
The film is riding a record-breaking high, grossing more than $160 million domestically in 10 weekends. And this Sunday, Southern Utah University alum Keala Settle will perform the movie’s Oscar-nominated song, “This Is Me,” at the 90th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California.
Pasek and Paul, who received their second Oscar nomination for “This Is Me,” stopped in Orem Monday to perform and speak at UVU’s Roots of Knowledge speaker series before making their way to California for Hollywood’s biggest night.
The Oscar, Tony, Golden Globe and Grammy Award-winning songwriting duo charmed the audience of nearly 2,400 people at the Rebecca Lockhart Arena.
In between funny anecdotes and insider Broadway stories (like stalking Cyndi Lauper during Tony season in 2016), Pasek and Paul performed songs from their songbook, ranging from their first off-Broadway production, “Dogfight,” to 2016’s Tony Award-winning best musical, “Dear Evan Hansen,” to their Oscar winner, “City of Stars” from the hit 2016 film “La La Land.”
What really got the crowd going, however, was when the pair performed songs from “The Greatest Showman.” The connection with the audience was magical. In addition to singing along, stomping, clapping, laughing and even crying, the audience leapt to their feet for a sustained standing ovation at the end of Pasek and Paul’s set.
That connection is a testament to the content and heart of “The Greatest Showman.”
“'This Is Me’ has been something a lot of people have found their own story in,” Pasek said, “So many people have made this song their own way of expressing how they feel about celebrating individuality and being brave in the face of difficult or dark times.”
One little girl truly made the song her own at the end of the concert, as a featured soloist with Utah's One Voice Children’s Choir, who performed at the event. Her powerhouse vocals soared above the choir’s beautiful harmonies and left many in the audience in tears, touched by hearing children sing a song of empowerment and individuality.
By the end of the concert, the audience had heard “This Is Me” performed twice — once by Pasek and Paul and a second time by the One Voice Children’s Choir. But the two very different renditions only highlighted what makes Pasek and Paul’s songwriting so powerful — that individual performers can shape the end result.
Earlier Monday afternoon, Pasek and Paul taught a master class to 350 students, where students from UVU’s School of the Arts performed for the songwriting duo and received critiques on how to improve.2 comments on this story
“It was amazing to be able to perform for them,” UVU student Ganae Osorio said. “They are relevant in the industry. What they say applies. To be with the people actually deciding the future of the music industry is an amazing opportunity.”
Pasek and Paul were equally impressed by UVU’s students.
“We’ve done this all over the country, and you guys are really, really talented,” Paul said. “What you are learning and being taught here is right on the mark. Whatever you are doing here, you’re doing it right.”