Updated: Jul 16, 2021
Chance Theater delivers yet another in a long line of area premieres, delivering a look at the earliest show created by the award-winning team of Pasek and Paul, known for ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ ‘La La Land’ and two previous Chance shows – ‘Dogfight’ and ‘James and the Giant Peach.’
By Eric Marchese
Once a creative talent toiling in the theater world scores a hit and becomes known to the public, it’s not uncommon for their first or earliest works to be unearthed, produced, and receive acclaim. This phenomenon benefits the writer or composer while providing the rest of us with insights into later works of theirs that are more familiar to us.
For Jonathan Larson, it was “tick, tick…Boom!” For Jason Robert Brown, “Songs for a New World.” And for Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, it’s “Edges.”
The duo’s more notable theater credits include the lyrics and musical score for the 2016 Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen.” Among their earlier stage works: 2012 Off-Broadway musical “Dogfight,” the music and lyrics for the 2010 stage musical version of “A Christmas Story,” and the 2010 Broadway musical “James and the Giant Peach” (Paul wrote the music and Pasek the lyrics).
They’re just as celebrated for their work in films, having written the Oscar-nominated song “This is Me” for the 2017 movie musical “The Greatest Showman” and the lyrics for the Oscar-winning song “City of Stars” for the 2016 film “La La Land.”
Those of you reading this are familiar with most of those shows and films – but how many of you have heard of “Edges”?
A bit of background on Pasek and Paul: They met as freshmen at the University of Michigan in 2005 while working toward their BFA degrees in musical theater. Each continued to be cast in minor roles as extras. Annoyed, they decided to write a show of their own that their parents could see them in when flying out to visit – something more than just being in the background of a theater production.
The show, titled “Edges,” took the form of a song cycle performed by a cast of four. Response proved positive, so Pasek and Paul continued to develop it, using 30 college productions across the U.S. plus feedback from noted theater composers Stephen Schwartz and Jeff Marx. All of this helped spark the show’s 2007 professional premiere at the Capital Repertory Theatre in New York.
Since then, it’s been performed all over the U.S. and worldwide, including productions in Canada, Australia, the Philippines, South Africa and Singapore and in London and Paris.
“Edges” didn’t just attract friends and family members of those cast in it: It got the writing team noticed. In 2006, thanks to “Edges,” they became the youngest recipients to have ever won the Jonathan Larson Award for emerging songwriters.
Over the next handful of years, Pasek and Paul wrote the scores for “James and The Giant Peach” and “Dogfight” and garnered their first Tony Award nomination for the score to the stage musical version of “A Christmas Story.”
Three major stage and screen projects of the past five years are what really put Pasek and Paul on the map: “Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land,” and “The Greatest Showman.” That makes the timing of Chance Theater’s upcoming production almost ideal.
Considering how long since its inception, and Pasek and Paul’s subsequent fame, you might think the show would have been seized upon and performed somewhere in Orange County.
Not! Chance Theater’s upcoming staging is an O.C. premiere, something for which the company has gained well-deserved repute.
Chance Theater fans are certainly familiar with some of the duo’s earlier stage works: Outstanding productions of “Dogfight” and “James and the Giant Peach” are among the more notable shows in Chance’s 22-year history.
Managing director Casey Long noted two key factors that drew the company to the show and convinced them to schedule it.
First was “the pedigree of the creators.” Secondly, he said, is that the show is “an exploration of relationship dynamics and major life decisions during a time when many people are taking a harder look at their own lives: What were the moments that dictated who we have become? What life choices have we made that set a course for what career we would have, what passions we would pursue, and who we would love?”
Four nameless characters who are on the verge of becoming adults explore these themes, a welter of coming-of-age questions about love, commitment, identity and meaning. In fact, the show has accurately been described as “a charming, witty and honest examination of adulthood that explores what happens when we’re teetering on the edge of the rest of our lives.”
Company members James Michael McHale and Robyn Manion are, respectively, the show’s director and musical director, and the production team includes Bradley Kaye (scenic design), Chris Henrriquez (lighting design), Christine Perez (costume design), Hunter Moody (sound design) and Nicole Schlitt (stage manager).
The cast is comprised of Sarah Pierce (from Chance’s staging of “Ragtime”), Tyler Marshall (from “James and the Giant Peach”) and, in their Chance debuts, Elizabeth Curtin and Jewell Holloway.
McHale notes that all of the show’s songs “feature characters that are on the figurative edge of an important moment in their lives. Many of them are facing an important decision or reeling from a decision that was just made for them.”
Musical director Manion said the show “touches on things that are relevant to what people experience on a day-to-day basis and invites the audience to engage in meaningful conversation about those things.”
She said the “relatable” songs “touch on themes that resonate no matter where in the world you live – things like dreaming about what your future could hold and wanting something great for yourself, falling in love, falling out of love, comparing yourself to your peers, feeling stuck or restless, or being on the receiving end of someone else feeling that way.”
“Edges,” McHale said, is filled with “real, complicated humans coming from different places, different backgrounds and circumstances” – characters, he said, who are “all ultimately filled with hope for connection and meaning.”
Eric Marchese has written about numerous subjects over more than 35 years as a freelance and staff journalist for a wide variety of publications, but is best known as a critic, feature writer and news reporter covering theater in Orange County and throughout Southern California.
Cripe Stage, Chance Theater @ Bette Aitken theater arts Center, 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim.
July 17-August 8. Thu. 7:30 p.m., Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 3 and 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m.
Previews July 9-16. Fri./Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m.
$25-$49 (senior, military, student and child discounts available)