University of Michigan alums win big at 71st Tony Awards

ANN ARBOR, MI – An unforgettable year for University of Michigan School of Music, Theater & Dance alums Benj Pasek and Justin Paul continued Sunday evening, June 11, as the duo added Tony Awards to their growing awards mantles.

Pasek and Paul, who recently won Oscars for the song “City of Stars” from the movie “La La Land,” earned Tonys for best score for writing the songs for “Dear Evan Hansen.”

The songwriting team recently were recognized for their professional achievements during UM’s spring commencement ceremony with Bicentennial Alumni Awards.

They provided a special musical performance during the ceremony along with students from the UM School of Music Theater & Dance. The songwriters also won a Golden Globe for the song “City of Stars” from the movie “La La Land.”

Pasek, who grew up in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, earned a bachelor of fine arts degree with honors in musical theater from UM in 2006.

Paul, who is from Westport, Connecticut, earned a bachelor of fine arts degree with high honors in musical theater from UM in 2006.

The two met, and started collaborating, while they were students at UM, first putting together a coming-of-age song cycle called “Edges.”

They’ve written the score for theatrical productions aimed at kids (“Duck for President,” “If You Give a Pig a Pancake”); contributed tunes to TV shows like “Smash,” “Sesame Street” and “Johnny and the Sprites”; created the score for the Off-Broadway musical “Dogfight” (inspired by the 1993 River Phoenix/Lili Taylor movie); and earned their Tony Award nomination in 2013 for creating the original score for the stage musical adaptation of “A Christmas Story.”

The duo weren’t the only UM alums earning recognition at the 71st Tony Awards on Sunday.

Gavin Creel won his first Tony for featured actor in a musical in Bette Midler’s return to Broadway in “Hello, Dolly!”

Creel grew up in Findlay, Ohio, and graduated from UM’s the School of Music, Theatre & Dance with a BFA in musical theater in 1998.

This was Creel’s third Tony nomination, previously being recognized for his work in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Hair.”

During his acceptance speech, Creel credited the influence UM’s SMTD had in shaping his career.

“My education there as a young person changed my life forever,” he said. “My professors, my classmates, they instilled in me an appreciation for what it is to be an artist and what it is to be lucky to be a part of this incredible community. If you’re out there and you have money – and I know a lot of you in this room have a lot of it – start a scholarship.”

In addition to recognition for their work in the past year, noted UM alum James Earl Jones earned the Tony Lifetime Achievement Award for his success on the stage. 

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