It’s been a wild couple of months doing almost constant live Q&As with composers and songwriters for the current crop of Oscar hopefuls. For the Society of Composers & Lyricists alone there have been nearly a dozen. Some of the more memorable ones have been Tar with composer Hildur Guonadottir and director Todd Field; White Noise with Danny Elfman; Pinocchio with composer Alexandre Desplat and director Guillermo del Toro; The Banshees of Inisherin with Carter Burwell; Glass Onion with Nathan Johnson; A Man Called Otto with composer Thomas Newman and producer-songwriter Rita Wilson; and Spirited with songwriters Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and Khiyon Hursey.
The two most likely candidates for Best Song nominations at the Oscars come from very different movies: “Remember Me,” the musical centerpiece of Disney/Pixar’s Coco, and “This Is Me,” the outcasts anthem from the P.T. Barnum biopic The Greatest Showman. They also happen to be the work of four of America’s current greatest songwriters, all previous Oscar winners: Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Frozen), who wrote “Remember Me”; and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land), who wrote all the songs in The Greatest Showman. I chronicle the creation of both songs in this week’s Variety: Here is the “Remember Me” backstory, and here is the one on “This Is Me.”
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are among this country’s most talented and sought-after songwriters, so when Fox asked me to do a live Q&A with them following a Society of Composers & Lyricists screening of The Greatest Showman at 20th-Century Fox, I jumped at the chance. If you don’t know their names, you almost certainly know their music: They have already won the Oscar for La La Land and the Tony for Dear Evan Hansen, and their songs for A Christmas Story were heard during Fox’s recent live telecast of the musical. (They also wrote my favorite TV song of last year, “Runnin’ Home to You” for The Flash.) Their song “This Is Me” is certainly a contender for the Best Song Oscar.
It was a genuine thrill to be the first journalist allowed to hear the songs that Oscar- and Tony-winning tunesmiths Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have penned for the upcoming Hugh Jackman film The Greatest Showman (debuting at Christmas), a musical biopic of the legendary P.T. Barnum. It’s the lead music story in this week’s Variety, and includes a brief look at four of the songs, plus interviews with the songwriters, Jackman and director Michael Gracey. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Pasek & Paul are today’s hottest musical-theater writers, only a few months after winning Oscars for La La Land and Tonys for Dear Evan Hansen. Plus they are really terrific guys who have an amazing sense of musical-theater history.