Benj Pasek has a new show premiering on Sunday, and it’s all about Philly.
The Ardmore-raised composer and lyricist (Dear Evan Hansen, La La Land) is one of the organizers of Good Things Happen in Philadelphia, a star-studded streaming event to raise money and awareness for several local groups working to make sure as many people as possible vote.
Good Things Happen in Philadelphia has attracted an eclectic group of Philly notables and celebrities with ties to the area, among them East Oak Lane’s Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr., Penn grad John Legend, Cheltenham’s Lil Dicky, Allentown’s Amanda Seyfried, North Philly’s Freeway, Wayne’s Abbi Jacobson, and Philly drag star Willam.
Phillies center fielder Andrew McCutchen and former Sixer World B. Free are also part of a lineup that includes Queen Village’s Jake Tapper and 6ABC’s Jim Gardner as well as restaurateur Michael Solomonov and Queer Eye food expert Antoni Porowski.
Unlike Saturday Night Seder, an event in April that Pasek also helped organize that has raised $3 million for coronavirus responders, there won’t be a single arc tying all the talent together. “There’s different little bits,” Pasek said in a Zoom call Wednesday from Georgia, where a movie version of Dear Evan Hansen is being filmed. “Philadelphia trivia ... like, what are your favorite slang words from Philadelphia? What’s your Wawa hoagie order?”
A team led by producer-director Alison Flood "is putting together a lot of really, really fun segments. There’s a segment between Willam, the drag queen, and Abbi Jacobson from Broad City where they say ‘Yas, queen,’ or 'No, queen’ to things that they really are excited about or not excited about in terms of local Philadelphia stuff. There’s going to be a bit — I don’t want to give anything away — but between Leslie Odom Jr. and a famous historical Philadelphian who might walk the streets of Philadelphia from time to time,” he said.
To hear Pasek tell it, the stars aligned easily once people found out that the purpose was “civic engagement,” and particularly in Philadelphia.
He said he’d long been interested in doing something to help promote voting and civic engagement. A high school friend from his days at Friends' Central, Maya Francis, had introduced him to Better Civics, a relatively new, nonpartisan group cofounded by Brownstone PR president Megan R. Smith and former city commissioner candidate Jen Devor.
Besides Better Civics, the show aims to support the work of Black Voters Matter, SEAMAAC (Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Coalition), Philly Youth Vote!, and the Sixers Youth Foundation/Vote 76.
Given that the deadline to register to vote in Pennsylvania is Monday, what would groups trying to register voters do with any money raised by Sunday’s show?
“To me it’s less about dollars coming in and more about the amazing awareness” the show could bring to voting and to groups like Better Civics, said Pasek, who was on the call with Devor and Smith.
“Even though we are coming up against the deadline ... we still do have that last shot at getting new voters registered,” Smith said. “But we also have to remember that, even though we’ve spent the last few weeks getting a lot of new people registered, we still need to encourage them and activate them to still make their vote count. It’s not enough to just get people registered, you have to continue to stay in conversation with them, and encourage them to make an Election Day plan.”
What “Benj is helping us able to do” in raising money is “making sure that people still do make their voices count and make their voices heard on Nov. 3, and beyond.”