Hometown musical hero honored at library fundraiser
WILTON — Most people in their 30s aren’t treated to a performance recapping their life and career, but the Westport Library did just that for hometown musical hero Justin Paul at the library’s 20th annual “Booked for the evening,” fundraising event at Wilton’s Rolling Hills Country Club.
“This is crazy — this sort of retrospective of a 33 year old,” Paul said in accepting the library’s “Booked for the evening” award given to, “an individual whose work reflects the purpose of the Library — to nurture the love of learning and to enhance our understanding of the world.”
Although Paul is much younger than the awards previous recipients, such as Tom Brokaw, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Martin Scorsese, his accomplishments as an Oscar, Grammy, Tony and Golden Globe Award-winning songwriter are no less impressive.
“Justin’s songs explore what it means to be human and that’s the full-range of human experience — the ups and the downs. His music inspires audiences to dream of being better people, more engaged in our community, and more dedicated to making the world a better place for all of us,” 2011 Staples High School graduate turned actor Max Samuels, who served as master of ceremonies for the June 11 performance, said of Paul’s work.
Members of the Staples Players and chorale groups sang several of Paul’s original songs, written in collaboration with musical partner Benj Pasek, from the musicals Dear Evan Hansen, La La Land, and The Greatest Showman, among others. The night reached a high point when Staples students sang “You Will be Found,” From Dear Evan Hansen, whose powerful lyrics read, “Even when the dark comes crashing through, when you need a friend to cary you, and when you’re broken on the ground, you will be found.”
Intermixed with the musical performances were videos featuring interviews with people from different periods of Paul’s life — from his childhood music and drama teachers, to his professors at the University of Michigan, and colleagues on broadway, namely La La Land producer Mark Platt who announced in a video that he will underwrite a new recording studio to be named for Paul.
In his speech following the performance Paul, who lives in New York City with his wife and two young children, recounted his childhood growing up in Westport saying he felt left out as a kid, especially in middle-school, but was happy that period finally came to pass. “I want to confirm this is my bar mitzvah,” Paul said, compelling laughs from the sold-out crowd of 500 that who’s ticket sales raised money for the library’s renovation project.
Paul thanked the music, drama, and instrumental teachers in Westport who fostered his love of music, held him to high standards, and served as bumpers in a bowling alley, keeping him on track throughout his childhood. “All of my teachers were professionals, and they all required us to act like ones too, and we sort of then did, because we had to rise to the occasion,” Paul said of his musical education in the Westport Public Schools, before ending the night on the piano leading Staples students in a few of his songs.
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