Award-winning songwriter Benj Pasek has announced that two songs from “Saturday Night Seder,” “When You Believe” and “Next Year” — have been released by Ghostlight Records with all proceeds benefitting Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.
“Saturday Night Seder” premiered on April 11 on YouTube as a virtual Passover event featuring Jason Alexander, Pamela Adlon, Idina Menzel, Ben Platt, Cynthia Erivo, Billy Eichner and a host of other celebrities to help tell the story of Passover through music and comedy.
As Shaina Taub, who co-wrote “Next Year” and participated in the conversation, explained: “In Judaism, there’s a principle called Tikkun Olam which means to repair the broken world and to be of service to people, and so in this current moment of Black Lives Matter and to continue with that spirit of service, it was about how we could use our Tikkun Olam. We are going to be donating all proceeds from the tracks to Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.” She adds, “They’re an organization that really believes in Jewish people standing up as allies, for other marginalized communities.”
The songs were first performed on “Saturday Night Seder,” and “Next Year” is a contender in the original song Emmy category.
Composing “Next Year”
Hannah Friedman, one of the co-writers and co-songwriters of original music on the Saturday Night Seder team identified that the show needed to close with a tune that completed a journey for the audience. Pasek says, “She always was the one to be song spotting and say, ‘Hey, an original moment can go here.’ She pitched “Next Year” and she wrote a draft.
Taub adds, “Seder ends with the note of hope. We wanted to send people off on a hopeful feeling. We wanted to make a timeless style universal song that was rooted in the themes of holiday and this moment but could resonate with people who had never heard the word ‘Seder’ before.”
Pasek and the team made use of Google docs, updating notes and lyrics in real-time at all hours of the day. “The point of telling the Passover story every year and why it’s probably most Jewish people’s favorite holiday is that it’s this retelling of the story of when you were in a time when you felt like you were confined or enslaved or you didn’t have options,” he said.
Pasek observed that the songwriters kept thinking about how the Passover story seemed incredibly bleak. Still, he found the writing process to be incredibly cathartic in driving home the personal meaning of the Seder. “We have leaders that we might not have full faith in,” he noted, relating the biblical tale to the confluence of events of today, namely the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. “The tradition has been to retell this story of going from that place of enslavement to expansive liberation, and that will come again. It felt an important thing to try to translate for ourselves and just to give to other people at this moment too.”
Jason Alexander led the vocals for “Dayenu,” the show’s opening number, which featured Darren Criss, Mayim Bialik, Josh Groban, and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” star Rachel Brosnahan as vocalists.
Alexander went above and beyond to get audiences in the mood, setting his table for Passover dinner and he even brought props. Pasek described the songwriting process as being “at summer camp together on Zoom.”
When Groban became available, Pasek added, “Mark [Sonnenblick] got to write this music that was very cantorial that Josh would sing and we’d add that in.” Brosnahan was similarly inspired to grab a piece of celery for her number. “Everybody came together to like create a moment as opposed to anything being delineated in a more traditional way. It just ended up being this hodgepodge of different skill sets with everyone coming together to create all of it.”
Watch the full interview below: