Why ‘Flash’ Songwriters Were So ‘Weird’ to Michelle Williams

Benj Pasek & Justin Paul photographed
Patrick James Miller for Variety

Fresh off the Tonys, from which their musical “Dear Evan Hansen” emerged with six trophies including best musical, songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have a horse in the Emmy race. In the musical episode of “The Flash” that crossed over with “Supergirl” in March, the pair wrote the original song “Runnin’ Home to You.”

Were you familiar with Greg Berlanti’s work before he approached you about “The Flash”?
Pasek: Greg is responsible for Jack on “Dawson’s Creek,” so I love him in a deep, deep way. Jack was the first representation I saw of a kid in high school coming out. I was a middle-schooler, and I really identified with that character.
Paul: I was obsessed with Michelle Williams. In seventh grade, my version of dating my girlfriend was we would call each other and watch “Dawson’s Creek” on the phone together.

Were you “Flash” watchers already?
Pasek: I really like the show. Part of the reason I started watching is that we know [star] Grant Gustin, because he was in a production of our show “Edges” at Elon University in North Carolina when he was a freshman.
Paul: We went there to give a workshop with the students.
Pasek: I think it was maybe 2007 or 2008. There’s a picture somewhere of us on Facebook with baby Grant.

How is writing a song for TV different from writing one for the theater?
Paul: Usually for TV, we know the words and music can have extra resonance because you can cut away to a flashback or a timelapse or a montage. But this one was more like writing a theater song, because it was just a very intimate human moment that had to sustain itself between two people, with no cutting away.
Pasek: As a writer, you get excited when something that’s literal in the world of the story can also have resonance as a metaphor outside of it. Like the lyric “This world can race by far too fast / Hard to see while it’s all flying past” has a double meaning for the way that we live our lives, but it’s also incredibly specific to Barry Allen’s character.
Paul: And because it’s TV, they were like, “No longer than 2½ minutes.”

You ended up working with Michelle Williams on “The Greatest Showman,” the upcoming movie musical with Hugh Jackman. Did you ever talk to her about your “Dawson’s” love?
Pasek: We were weird to Michelle for like a month or two. We were trying to be professional.
Paul: I’d be sitting at the piano thinking: “I watched you a lot, but I can’t really talk about this…”
Pasek: But then we told her, and she went deep with us. She was like, “You wanna hear the gossip?”

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