There never felt like a better moment for Ben Platt’s solo concert to drop. His debut album earns its title from a simple idea of comfort, as in “I don’t want to think about that now...would you Sing To Me Instead?” On May 20, the Dear Evan Hansen Tony Award winner arrives on Netflix to do just that. The film of his fall 2019 Radio City Musical Hall concert, helmed by Tony-nominated director Alex Timbers, may be medicinal.
With songs like “Grow As We Go,” “In Case You Don’t Live Forever,” and “Run Away,” feel in tune with the demand to adapt, the need to morn, and the reminder of why we will always stay.
Ahead of the Ben Platt Live From Radio City Music Hall release, Playbill caught up with the artist to talk about his full Sing to Me Instead tour, his experience playing Radio City, his collaboration with Timbers, as well as teasers for the concert special and the upcoming sophomore season of Ryan Murphy’s The Politician.
From the Sing to Me Instead experience, what did you learn about yourself touring like that?
Ben Platt: I really learned how I perform as myself and what it feels like to sort of think and dance and speak authentically as me. ’Cause I'm so used to focusing on transforming or like fitting into a particular narrative or getting an objective across, and the only objective for me and these shows was just, like, share myself. And I think that was very daunting, at first. But over the course of the tour, I really learned like what that feels like and what that means to me. And how that manifests in terms of what pace do I like to have, and do I want to sing in ways that stray from the way the record sounds, or do I want to dance the way I dance when I'm out with my friends—just how to really be authentically myself without worrying about any kind of larger design.
Watching you dance felt like freedom personified. You just looked like you were like dancing in your bedroom essentially.
I didn't really want any major choreography. During rehearsals I would feel things out and we found a couple of little moments here and there to have like in-sync choreography (me and my amazing background vocalists), but that just kind of came out of organically how we were all already dancing together.
Describe the feeling of walking onto that stage at Radio City for the first time, even before people were in the seats.
At first it was sort of déjà vu because it reminded me of being there for “Waving Through a Window” rehearsal Dear Evan Hansen. For me, Radio City is first and foremost the Tonys' home and that's such a sacred thing and like a sacred space. It took me a second to adjust to the idea that I wasn't there to be part of someone else's larger program. I was there to do my own show and headline it myself. That was kind of a little heady for me to understand. Everything in the last 10 or 12 years of working in the business and building up myself as a performer had led me to that moment.
Do you remember the show or does it feel like “I know I did it. But I have no memory”?
I really do. I went to great lengths. That week of that show was sort of a crazy week of life because The Politician came out and I played Global Citizens Festival the day before in Central Park and my birthday was that week and it was just like—it was always this big, looming week all year. I really made an effort leading up to it to do everything I could to prep for the week so then when it was happening I could really just live in it. And I feel like that really did pay off, because I do remember what it felt like up there. And then on top of that, I now have it immortalized, which obviously on a like a career level, I'm so happy that there's a special for me that people can see, but on a selfish level, it's just like, it's a home video for me. You know what I mean? I can always come back to it.
It's like your Bar-mitzvah video. You'll bring it out at the Thanksgiving every year.
Exactly. My Bar-mitvzah montage, the first day of school. And a special.
Was there a moment of the Radio City show that felt to you like everything had aligned?
I spoke about my grandmother passing before I sang “In Case You Don't Live Forever,” and I think, for me, that moment in the show, with my dad there in the audience, just felt really special and like she was there. I just felt like I was where I was supposed to be. And then on top of that, now, my dad lost his father on Friday this week. It was definitely a long time coming, but my grandma passed right when I went on tour, and then my grandpa passed right as the special is coming out, and it really just feels like there's this weird kind of cosmic connection between this particular show that I've done and the two of them. That song will always be special having sung it at Radio City.
You’ve talked about how important your pre-show routine is. Are we going to be seeing any of those behind-the-scenes moments?
Totally. The opening of the special is a lot of the prepping. You see me warming up with Liz Caplan, the genius voice teacher; you see getting the stage set and some of the crew. Once the show begins, we live really only in the show. I really wanted it to feel like, kind of a Liza With a Z situation where you're really there live with us. Then at the end as well, there's a bit more of a behind-the-scenes look with my family.
Did you have a direct collaboration with Alex, or was he an observer and an editor after the fact?
One hundred percent we collaborated. I knew right away when I made the deal to do the special that I wanted Alex to direct it. I've loved his work on stage and obviously all of his work that he's done on camera as well, particularly John Mulaney’s [Sack Lunch Bunch]. I just think he's so brilliant at taking a musical concert and making it feel like a narrative evening. I knew he would really help me preserve like the intimacy of it.
You have an amazing way of making us feel right there through every song and story. On a personal note, there are Jewish celebrities out, but the Jewish piece of your story has been consistent from the beginning. Was that a conscious decision for you?
I think it's similar to talking about my being queer and all of those things. Those are such specifics of who I am, and they've made me who I am. So many of my stories are wrapped up in that Jewish upbringing. To edit that for any reason would just feel disingenuous. So it's just kind of the most authentic version of myself I can offer is literally who I am and that's queer and that's Jewish and that's anxious and all those things. Naturally, if I'm going to try to tell my own stories and give my own perspective, those are going to be huge parts of it. And I love that.
Speaking of queer representation and some anxiety as well, The Politician Season 2 drops June 19 on Netflix. Payton and Evan feel like two sides of an anxious coin—one really cowers because of the anxiety and one really knuckles through the anxiety. Have you felt those connections?
Totally. I think that they're definitely cousins. Partly because Ryan saw Evan Hansen and that's what kind of inspired him to make The Politician and, secondly, because I'm the commonality between those two people and naturally I'm going to bring some anxiety to any character. They both have a similar kind of insecurity and desire to be seen, but it manifests in such different ways. Payton's is all about ambition and power and passion and mattering and amounting to something. And Evan’s is much more about empathy and being seen and loved. This season Payton grows up a lot. You get to see him become more of an adult. He kind of learns how to channel all that raw passion and energy and craziness into a bit more of a productive political campaign and a platform, and actually makes some moves and become a little more effective. He also learns a lot from Judith Light’s character, DeeDee Standish. The whole show gets to grow up a little bit and become a bit more adult. It's really sharp and fun, and I think people are gonna devour it really quickly.