Ben Platt on Playing His Best Role Yet: Himself

Ben Platt has played countless unique roles on Broadway: A socially awkward loner desperate for connection; an overeager Mormon missionary sent to convert a village in Uganda to the teachings of Joseph Smith; a Jewish factory superintendent falsely accused of murdering a young girl in 1913 Atlanta.

For his breakout role as the titular character in Dear Evan Hansen, Platt earned his first Tony, Grammy and Emmy Awards, putting him just one award away from achieving EGOT status. In between these history-making achievements, the Pitch Perfect star has dabbled in film and TV, while simultaneously launching a parallel career as a solo artist thanks to his 2019 debut album Sing to Me Instead and 2021 sophomore effort Reverie.

Still, Platt remains a theater kid at heart. So to celebrate the forthcoming arrival of his latest album Honeymind (out May 31 via Interscope), he decided to go back to his Broadway roots by mounting a residency at the Palace Theatre before he kicks off a headlining North American tour.

Ben Platt: Live at The Palace runs for just three weeks from May 28 to June 15 (followed by his North American tour, which begins June 18). It marks a major milestone in the singer’s career on the Great White Way: It’s the first time he’ll be simply playing himself.

“It feels a lot scarier, and exciting,” he tells Ticketmaster of the prospect. “Just being completely myself feels just like a huge responsibility and opportunity. I try to really take seriously the fact that I’m getting the chance to do this in a space like that, because these are really sacred spaces.”

Platt’s upcoming run of shows will also be a landmark moment in the history of the Palace Theatre, which has been closed to the public since 2018. The historic vaudeville house-turned-Broadway theater has since undergone extensive renovations, and will be a completely revitalized space when the curtain goes up on Platt’s first show on May 28. (In October, the musical biopic Tammy Faye, with music by Elton John and lyrics by Jake Shears, will move in next.)

On the verge of reopening the Palace, Platt took a break from rehearsals to chat about how his relationship with fiancé Noah Galvin inspired the folksy direction of his new album, getting to perform in the same venue as his idols Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli, geeking out over the Wicked trailer and much more.

How did the idea for the residency at the Palace come about?

Any time I’m writing a record, because I’m a performer first and foremost, I’m just thinking about the live component that makes the most sense — that’s sort of the end game for me. As soon as we started to write it, it was living much more in this warm kind of Americana, more intimate, emotional, narrative space. I was really excited about the idea of returning to proscenium theaters and places that felt warm and more connective. And I’ve separately always had this dream, after watching people in the past like Judy and Liza, but also more recently Melissa Etheridge and Bruce Springsteen, of bridging those two worlds of playing my own music and the Broadway community, just because that’s the two spaces I love to occupy the most.

We were running into a lot of dead ends and things weren’t closing in the right windows. And then the Nederlanders called and were like, “We’re finally ready to reopen the Palace.” And it just felt like the skies opening up and this beacon of light from Judy Garland being like, “This is your moment.”

Ben Platt Interview
Ben Platt, photo by Vince Aung

You’ve done so much on Broadway, but this is your first time headlining something as yourself – not as a character. Does it feel different?

It feels a lot scarier and exciting. It’s a really privileged space. Any time you get to be on a Broadway stage, it feels very storied and there’s lots of electricity, and it’s just inherently so memorable and momentous. So then to add the layer of taking away that final separation and filter, and just being completely myself feels just like a huge responsibility and opportunity. I try to really take seriously the fact that I’m getting the chance to do this in a space like that, because these are really sacred spaces.

We’ve been working on the design and the setlist and the natural arc and the storytelling. But in terms of really feeling out how the night’s going to go and what I’m going to want to say and feel, it is a little more fast and loose. I’m a very preparation-oriented person, particularly when it comes to Broadway, and wanting to present something very polished and shiny and sharp. It’s been a really good challenge to allow myself to lean into something that is more informal and embrace that fear a little bit and prepare in the way that you do an improv.

It’s been a lot of me laying awake at night being like, “Shouldn’t I be doing more?” and “Shouldn’t I be working on the way this transition works?” [But] just accepting that it needs to be a little bit more just from me, and I’m just very excited to start performing.

You mentioned Judy and Liza. Did you look to any of the other Broadway greats in terms of residencies for inspiration for how you were going to do this?

Yeah, particularly from the Palace. Obviously Judy and Liza, but also Bette Midler and Diana Ross and Harry Belafonte and Josephine Baker. It was a very overwhelming, scary list. When I thought about it more, I tried to reframe it for myself and make it a productive thing. I’ve tried to focus more on the fact that none of them have anything in common with each other. The thing that seems to really bring the list together is that it’s all incredibly individual, singular performers.

What I’ve been trying to do is, rather than try to predict what people’s expectations might be or fulfill what I think the perception of the show should be, just really focus on and hone in on what is my version of this and what feels the most myself, the most organic to me. What can I do that nobody else can do? And just really lean into that.

Do you have any favorite shows or memories at The Palace or any personal connections to it?

Other than just being just overwhelmed by the fact that that was Judy’s spot, and also watching videos of Liza, the whole time that I was growing up it was just a proper Broadway theater. So I saw the Annie revival there. I saw Legally Blonde there. I saw Spongebob [Squarepants] there. I saw the West Side Story that Lin-Manuel [Miranda] rewrote some of the songs in Spanish for there. It’s just another really great Broadway house.

And then I haven’t been in it for years, like anybody else. When I went and saw the refurbishment and walked in for the first time, it suddenly feels like it stands on its own a lot more than it did when I was just a kid going to see Broadway shows there. Like I said, any Broadway house is special, but it now seems to feel like it has its own rarefied air. Even in how new and clean and freshened up it now is, it still feels very ghostly and storied and has all that good history in it.

Well, speaking of “ghostly,” there are rumors that it’s haunted, right? By that Italian acrobat Louis Bossalina, who fell during a performance in the 1930s.

Yes, yes.

Any haunted experiences while you’ve been rehearsing?

There’s definitely a feeling of otherworldliness, and layers of what’s been there before, but I haven’t felt that particular person. But I imagine as I’m about to spend a month really consistently in there, that I will catch some glimpses. I mean, I hope so… I love shit like that for sure.

And maybe you’ll feel the ghost of Legally Blonde: The Musical: The Search for Elle Woods!

Autumn [Hurlbert] was robbed! Robbed. Loved Rhiannon [Hansen]. Also Lauren Zakrin, who’s now had a great career. And [Lena] Hall!

How did you approach putting the setlist together for the residency?

I’ve tried to strike a balance: this is first and foremost surrounding my album, Honeymind, and so I definitely want the spine of the setlist to be the new album. But I also recognize that because it’s the Palace and because it’s Broadway, it does want to feel a little more holistic and retrospective. So I’ve tried to sprinkle throughout some of my favorites from my other records, a couple of Broadway moments, a couple songs that pay homage to the Lizas and the Judys of the past, and a couple of covers that I’ve done in the past. Just try to make it feel like there’s at least something for everybody, but that the main spine is the new album.

Ben Platt interview
Ben Platt, photo by Vince Aung

Does that mean we’ll be getting any Judy or Liza tribute numbers?

Let’s just say I would never go in that building and not acknowledge those women. So take that how you will. [Grins]

On your last tour, you covered “The Wizard and I” at Madison Square Garden, which is as much of a segue as I need to ask what you think about the new Wicked trailer.

Well, I’m incredibly biased; my dad [Marc Platt] is the producer of the film and the musical, and conceived it with the writers when I was a wee child. But it’s just beautiful. As an actor who loves musical movies, it’s amazing to see one get the budget and the time and the care and the marketing and all of the things that it deserves, because it’s such a cultural phenomenon and it’s a musical that deserves to really be given a full shot. And it really feels like it is.

Above all else, obviously Cynthia [Erivo] and Ari[ana Grande] are both friends, but they are the real deal when it comes to singing and musical theater performing. And so to hear not a lick of robot in either of their voices and just to know that they could fully perform the show live on stage just as well as they are on camera is such a comfort and so refreshing to see, because it’s not always the case with these movies.

So I’m very, very excited. And I loved Wizard of Oz as a child, a big part of the Judy obsession came from that. Many people have the memory of going to Wicked for the first time and just being wrapped up in the fantasy and the rapturous quality of musical theater. It just feels like a homecoming for so many people, so emotional, and I think people can feel that it’s been really well taken care of.

Let’s talk about Honeymind. Honestly, the new album has a very different sound from your last album, 2021’s Reverie, and even your debut, 2019’s Sing to Me Instead. What inspired that sonic shift?

I spent a lot of time writing it in Nashville. And in terms of where I am in my own life as a person, I feel like generally the albums are reflective of that. The first record has a lot of echoes of theatricality because I was coming off of spending so long doing Evan Hansen. And the second one is this escapist poppy thing where I was stuck in the pandemic like everybody else and wanting to just feel some sort of kinetic explosion from it.

I think because of my relationship with Noah and having just turned 30 during the making of this album, I just feel a little bit more settled and comfortable in who I am and a little less desiring of bells and whistles. So I really wanted to just let the songwriting and the narrative speak for itself. And I also don’t necessarily feel as much pressure as I did when I was starting out to consciously make sure that every record is a vocal showcase. I will belt in places on it, but I just think that the idea of something really simple and stripped back and unadorned just felt really reflective of the type of things I was writing and where I felt like I was energetically.

And I listened to a lot of James Taylor and Simon and Garfunkel and a lot of Paul Simon’s solo stuff, and Fleetwood Mac and Carole King. And the plaintive simplicity was really inspiring to me, especially as it pertains to being crossed with a queer perspective. I don’t think I’ve necessarily heard a ton of examples of those two things really joining forces. A lot of times queer music comes with an energy and an aggression and a sexuality that I love as a listener, but isn’t necessarily who I am as a person. And I tend to live in a more earnest, soft, introspective place. So I really was inspired and excited by the combo of those two things.

“Unadorned,” “simplistic,” “plaintive” — all of those adjectives perfectly describe Honeymind’s lead single “Andrew.” What made that the right song to introduce this body of work?

It really exemplified where I was hoping to go with the whole record in terms of how to introduce it, which was this cross of something that was a little more leaned back vocally and a little softer and more contemplative and songwriting-forward. But that was a very expressly queer song and very particular to a queer experience that I had growing up that I think many queer people have, of this really frustrating, unrequited falling for straight people thing where you have nowhere to put your feelings basically, because it’s chemistry’s fault.

So I just loved the way that the song really captured that sort of melancholy, and always viewed it as a great gateway for where the whole album was going to go stylistically.

Noah plays a big part in the music video for “Cherry On Top,” the second single. Did you have to think very hard about putting your relationship out on display?

Yes and no. Not in terms of the songwriting, because all I know how to do is write about what is on top of mind and what is the most emotionally resonant for me. I feel like because I come from musical theater, it’s like you only sing about something if it’s too emotional to talk about. So that’s very much Noah at this stage.

But it was definitely a more conscious decision to include him in the video, because we just haven’t necessarily put our relationship on display in that way, in a visual or narrative sense. At the end of the day, the song is about the joy I feel having realized that Noah’s my person and the realization that this is not just your best friend but your love. And I was like, the only way in my mind to capture that is just to really get to show that and celebrate that.

And I know we both really revel in the opportunity to be representative. So it’s like a regular, queer, complex, joyful human relationship that is just 360 and three-dimensional and doesn’t have anything to do with trauma or oppression or anything like that. Not that those stories aren’t important, but… after “Andrew,” I was really eager to lead next with something that centered that joy and that relationship, because so much of the record is a celebration of that.

I felt so seen listening to “All American Queen,” which feels like it was written for every small town gay boy with a fabulous streak. What was the inspiration behind that?

I wrote a lot of the record with Alex Hope, who’s another queer songwriter I really love. We have been collaborators for a long time, and we spent a week together, just the two of us. Four or five of the records have ended up on the album, and this was one of the first ones we did. I think we both were loving this intersection of Americana or very traditionally “American” imagery with queer joy mixed in. We thought of all these great American anthemic origin story-type songs — “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Born to Run” — and these songs that are about what a joy it is to grow up in the real ‘Murica, but none of them have any kind of queer imagery.

So just the idea of a joyful, fun, anthemic song about how being queer is not only not the antithesis of being American, it’s just part of it, it was a really fun and exciting reclamation for us. And it was a very joyful session and an easy one to write because it made us giddy to just be like, “And then he gets to be the prom king! And then they make out! And then he goes away to school, and then he is just sweet as apple pie and he is a little disco ball.” That’s just how we all feel growing up, and that’s all that we should be made to feel. So it’s one of my favorites for sure. It makes me really happy,

Between the album, residency and tour, you’ve got a lot going on. Do you have any time for wedding planning?

We’ve been trying to do a lot of it front-loaded, because I am going to now be very occupied. But the nice thing is that Noah is by far the more aesthetic visionary of the two of us and I trust him implicitly. And most decisions are him telling me what’s going to happen and me being like, “That sounds right.” [Laughs] So yeah, we’ve made all the big decisions, all the big things are in place, so that now we can just enjoy futzing with the details until we get there.

Last question: will you ever be part of “The Wall Street Noise”?

[Laughs] I spend my whole life trying to be part of “The Wall Street Noise.” If that means being in a tap number, then yeah!


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