Benj Pasek and Sas Goldberg Interview: ‘Saturday Night Seder’
“It was kind of like, ‘you up? Want to work on a Passover seder?’” suggests Benj Pasek of how the special “Saturday Night Seder” came to fruition. Pasek serves as executive producer, writer and songwriter for the program. Writer Sas Goldberg agrees that “it was very ‘you up?’ in nature.” She adds that since the event was impromptu in nature, “I don’t think any of us had any idea about what it would become.” Watch the exclusive video interview above.
“Saturday Night Seder” has raised over $3 million, and counting, for the CDC’s Coronavirus Emergency Response Fund. It’s a fitting fundraiser since the idea for a streaming Passover celebration was born out of stay-at-home orders during the global pandemic. “We were in our apartments wondering what we could do to be helpful,” reveals Pasek. With the “ticking clock” of Passover quickly approaching, a group of creatives gathered in the virtual world to create a celebration which would honor the sense of community which Passover provides.
The event was created in the span of just two weeks, and at this early stage in quarantine there were no other events of this size to look at for a playbook. “I do think the nature of what we do is a very collaborative job,” says Goldberg, “so I think we were all open to being clumsy with it.” Writers pitched in with ideas as their schedules allowed.
The ad hoc virtual writer’s rooms were based on whoever was free at the time, and even resulted in unexpected original songs. Jason Alexander begins the night with “Dayenu,” which Pasek refers to as a “razzmatazz opening number” with a heartfelt message of inclusion. Pasek states that the tune suggests: “there’s a lot of stuff that’s messed up in the world right now, but let’s try to find some joy and community.” It’s a humorous way to incorporate Jews and non-Jews alike in the celebration.
Varying schedules also led to fun combinations of famous guest stars. Debra Messing and Richard Kind give Passover history lessons, Idina Menzel takes over singing “The Four Questions” from Finn Wolfhard, and Tan France helps Beanie Feldstein look fabulous for forty days in the desert. “I think some of it was mad libs,” jokes Goldberg of the actor pairings. Most of the moments were simply inspired by who was free to film at any given time. “It was a real joy to get to write on the fly like that,” admits Pasek.
Pasek won an Oscar for the original song “City of Stars” from “La La Land.” He won a Tony and Grammy for composing “Dear Evan Hansen.” He received an Emmy nomination for the original song “In the Market for a Miracle” from “A Christmas Story Live.” An Emmy victory would make him the 16th person in the EGOT club.