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Songwriting Duo Pasek And Paul Say Disney Was Their 'Gateway Drug' To Musical Theater

Pasek and Paul on working with Alan Menken and writing new lyrics for Disney's live-action 'Aladdin'

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are having a moment. The Oscar- and Tony-winning songwriting duo behind La La Land and Dear Evan Hansen are back in the spotlight with The Greatest Showman, a movie musical starring Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum, the founder of the once-celebrated Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Directed by Michael Gracey, The Greatest Showman features original music composed and written by Pasek and Paul. The duo, who met as undergrads in the University of Michigan's musical theater program, have a knack for putting life's everyday moments to song — something they learned from Disney legend Alan Menken.

Menken and his late songwriting partner Howard Ashman were instrumental in the Disney Renaissance era, penning music and lyrics for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin (until Ashman's death in 1991). Their timeless work inspired an entire generation of songwriters, including Pasek and Paul.

"It was our gateway drug for everything," Pasek told MTV News at a recent press day for The Greatest Showman. "The first movie that I ever saw in a theater was The Little Mermaid. A big part of why [musicals] are alive and well right now is because an entire generation grew up with their first stories being musicals and not even knowing that they were consuming musical theater."

And now things are coming full circle. Pasek and Paul, like their musical theater contemporaries Lin-Manuel Miranda, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, and Robert Lopez before them, have been tapped by Disney to work on two original songs for Guy Ritchie's live-action Aladdin. Even better: They're teaming up with their childhood hero, Menken.

"You can't pin him down. He jumps from world to world to world, and the sound is the sound of that world," Paul said. "He's putting the story first and the characters first, and we always try to do the same thing."

Production is still underway for Aladdin, which is currently filming just outside of London. Starring Egypt-born actor Mena Massoud as the titular street hustler, Power Rangers star Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine, and Will Smith as the iconic Genie, Aladdin will feature the songs you know and love from the animated classic, as well as two new additions and a few lyrical changes, à la this year's live-action Beauty and the Beast.

"'Arabian Nights' is a song that's in our bones," Pasek said.

"Who doesn't know everything about that song, right? The image of it is seared into our brains," Paul added. "So to get to dive in and write a new section of that song, to write some new lyrics for this part [and] that part, that is a wild, surreal dream come true."

When asked if Ashman and Menken's heartbreaking ballad, "Proud of Your Boy," would make it into the live-action film, Pasek said, "You'll have to wait and see."

If only we didn't have to wait until 2019 to find out.