The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD) will welcome Golden Globe and Academy Award-winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul as the commencement speakers for the school's 2017 graduation ceremony on Friday, April 28 at Hill Auditorium.
The duo will also perform at and be among 10 recent alumni to receive a Bicentennial Alumni Award, to be presented at Michigan Stadium at the U-M commencement ceremony for the entire university on April 29. Alumna Carol Jantsch (BM '06, tuba) will also receive a Bicentennial Alumni Award at the ceremony. She won her current position as principal tuba with the Philadelphia Orchestra when she was still an undergrad and is the first woman to hold this position with a major orchestra.
Pasek and Paul, 2006 graduates of SMTD's musical theatre program, have become an internationally renowned and celebrated composer/lyricist duo since receiving their BFA degrees. As the lyricists for the hit film La La Land, Pasek and Paul received the Golden Globe and Academy Award for "Best Song," along with composer Justin Hurwitz. Meanwhile, their Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen, with a book by Steven Levenson, is currently one of Broadway's hottest tickets and is expected to secure multiple Tony nominations in May and be a major contender for the "Best Musical" award. There is also media speculation that the show will be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
"We are absolutely thrilled to welcome Justin and Benj back to their alma mater as our commencement speakers while they are in the midst of the most exciting year of their lives," said Aaron Dworkin, dean of SMTD. "The talent of these incredible young men is exceeded only by their kindness and generosity-they have come back to Michigan several times to perform and work with our students, and they are truly inspirational. They are also outstanding role models who prove what talent, drive, and an SMTD degree can achieve."
Previously, Pasek and Paul have received Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Award nominations for A Christmas Story. They were the winners of the Lucile Lortel Award for the Off-Broadway show Dogfight, which was also nominated for Drama League and Outer Critics Circle awards, as well as a London Evening Standard award when it was produced in London.
Next fall, 20th Century Fox will release The Greatest Showman, a biopic about P.T. Barnum starring Hugh Jackman, with all songs written by Pasek and Paul. The team is also writing the music for a live action Disney re-make of Snow White, and have contributed original songs to the film Trolls and for a musical episode of the CW's The Flash.
Pasek and Paul got their start at SMTD when they wrote Edges, a song cycle, first produced at Kerrytown Concert House, that was recorded and went viral online. It has since had dozens of productions throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia.
The songwriters are the recipients of the Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theatre (American Academy of Arts and Letters); the ASCAP Richard Rodgers New Horizons Award; and the Jonathan Larson Award. Both are members of the Dramatists Guild of America, Inc.
Pasek, Paul and Jantsch will be among 10 recent graduates to receive the Bicentennial Alumni Award, which are being presented at the U-M commencement instead of honorary degrees. The awards were designed to highlight the excellence and impact of recent graduates and reflect a desire to acknowledge the university's past contributions and herald the future achievements of the Class of 2017 and future classes. Award recipients were chosen by a campus committee based on nominations from the community.
An additional 10 Bicentennial Alumni Award-winners will be honored at the winter 2017 U-M commencement ceremony, including two more SMTD alums: Carla Dirlikov Canales (BM '02, voice), a renowned mezzo-soprano who was named a U.S. State Department Cultural Envoy; and actor, singer, songwriter Darren Criss (BFA '09), who rose to fame on FOX-TV's Glee. He starred on Broadway and is currently touring in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.