‘Only Murders in the Building’ Composer and Songwriters on the ‘Pure Joy’ of Crafting Season 3’s Big Musical Numbers | How I Did It

Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and Siddhartha Khosla unpack the Hulu series’ big musical season and that “Pickwick Triplets” number

When it came time to bring a musical to life for “Only Murders in the Building” Season 3, the Hulu series’ producers turned to the best: songwriters Justin Paul and Benj Pasek. Their Oscar-winning credits range from “La La Land” to “The Greatest Showman” and their Tony-winning bona fides include Broadway’s “A Strange Loop” and “Dear Evan Hansen.” In short, they were the perfect fit to help craft the music for a storyline in which Martin Short’s Oliver Putnam stages his own murder mystery play.

“We’re really trying to hone in on the DNA of that style of musical that Oliver Putnam would create, given all of his various Broadway outings. It also has to exist in the context of the show ‘Only Murders in the Building,’ and each song has to play in a parallel track,” Pasek explained in a new installment of TheWrap’s How I Did It, presented by Hulu.

“Even ‘Pickwick,’ can the character unwind and untwist his nervousness and performance anxiety and everything going on in his personal life to perform it?,” Paul added.

Pasek said working on the song “Which of the Pickwick Triplets Did It?” was a “roller coaster of insanity.” It’s performed by Steve Martin and described as his character’s White Whale, and Pasek and Paul teamed up with legendary music duo Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (“Hairspray”) to tackle the pitter-patter, alliteration-fueled song.

“We’d never written with them before but we got in the room with them and just had the most enjoyable time trying to come up with the most insane, complex [song] full of plosives, full of alliteration. Something that could be from ‘The Music Man’ but also meshed with the world of Oliver Putnam,” Pasek said.

Paul continued, “So we got in the room and it was sort of like, ‘Everybody let’s find as many couplets [as possible.] What’s the Venn diagram of infants and baby terminology with crime terminology?’”

Pasek said the four of them wrote the song in a Google Doc, and when it came time to shoot the big number they only had a couple of hours for Martin to land the difficult track.

“There are a lot of shots of the ensemble and much more of it is not acting than you think because a lot of it is them genuinely [bracing for Steve to nail it],” Paul said.

The joyful nature of this musical season extended to the score as well, and composer Siddhartha Khosla said the music he composed for the moment in which Martin’s character goes to “the white room” while rehearsing the “Pickwick” song was one of the hardest he’s composed for the series.

“I’ve never spent longer on a piece of music in this show,” he said. “I think I did like 10 versions of this thing. It was so euphoric and happy and French poppy. There’s fish bubbles coming through, there’s this percussion happening, I’m beatboxing in it and then at one point [showrunner John Hoffman] called me and he’s like, ‘Can you do raspberries on it?’ and I’m like, ‘John, what are you talking about?’ I put a microphone on a doorstop and my son would flick the doorstop. The kitchen sink was in this.”

Pasek summed up his time on “Only Murders in the Building” this way: “It’s an experience that I hope we get to do again but I don’t know if anything will reach that level of just pure, pure joy.”

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