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6 Reasons Why Ben Platt is Extraordinary

6 Reasons Why Ben Platt is Extraordinary

Music, Theater
Ben Platt has made a tremendous impact in 2017, winning the Tony Award for Dear Evan Hansen, a huge Broadway hit, and then proceeded to build on his stage success with many outstanding TV appearances. He is signed to Atlantic Records and under the tutelage of my old friend Pete Ganbarg, will release an album soon.* Platt was a guest on the Stephen Colbert show back in May where he sang “For Forever” and was given an entire interview segment as well. His musical performance exhibited a rare level of excellence, but equally impressive was his personality: an idiosyncratic blend of urban neurosis, quick-witted humor, empathy, charm, and a healthy dose of humility. I’ve included both the interview and the performance so you can appreciate the full measure of my enthusiasm. Platt is potentially the first openly gay, Jewish, multi-media superstar and even without the benefit of seeing Dear Evan Hansen on stage, I have been utterly Platt-ified.
Ben Platt Tony Award
Ben Platt with his Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical

6 Reasons Why Ben Platt is Extraordinary

1. The actor as singer

Ben Platt’s performance is a potent reminder that excellence in vocal performance is about communicating, evoking feeling, and connecting emotionally. Good singing in any context, but especially in the theater, depends not only on singing well but also on skillful acting. Ben Platt is both a wonderful singer and great actor.
 

2. Can you believe it? A melisma-free performance 

Nowadays, the communication of lyrics is undermined by the hideous practice of riffing constantly, which I regard as the vocalist’s equivalent of Parkinson’s. Sadly, due to the ubiquity of shows like American Idol has validated the false equivalency that riffing well equals singing well—to say nothing of those that riff poorly but doggedly pursue this vocal tic with misguided zeal. I have heard this practice referred to as “over-souling,” but whatever you call it, the habit of riffing constantly proves nothing except the singer has little interest in communicating anything more than showing off. Riffing deliberately to make a musical point is something else and can be a very effective vocal tool when used strategically. Ben Platt doesn’t riff here, though I suspect he is quite capable of singing runs—but they would serve no point.

3. Ben Platt is prepared

Let’s compare Platt to lazy, crazy Mariah Carey, who suffered vocal damage early in her career and has made no discernible effort to retrieve entire sections of her voice that went missing before the nineties ended. I guess she didn’t have to, because she is able to rely on technological subterfuge and other more old-fashioned trickery ever since. This sorta works until there are electrical problems. By contrast, Ben Platt understands and respects his voice and, like most Broadway performers, relies on preparation and skill; you can’t fake eight shows a week. There is no more unsettling feeling for an audience than worrying that a performer is unprepared, un-rehearsed, or out of control. With Mariah, you usually get all three and, judging by the Rockefeller Center tree lighting debacle of ’15 and the New Year’s Eve car crash of ’16, we can also add “unapologetic” to the list.

4. He is an original

When something is successful, the entertainment industry has historically rushed to duplicate the original. Nowhere is this more true than in pop music where lazy label execs would seek to replicate something unique with constructed knock-offs. If you look back at history, every single iconic musician and performer with longevity was an original.

5. That glorious head voice

Ben Platt’s head voice (also known as falsetto) is a thing of great beauty. You have to go back to Johnny Mathis, the Ink the Mills Brothers, the Stylistics, or at least Maxwell, to encounter such (seemingly) effortless falsetto singing. When Mr. Platt floats notes up to his head it feels like a warm embrace; someplace I’d be glad to stay like, for forever.

6.  There is nothing more beautiful than talent

Ben Platt does not have conventional leading man looks. He is still a bit pudgy (apparently he was formerly pudgier) and has single-handedly reproved film critic Pauline Kael’s truism that nothing is more beautiful than talent. Though I believe Kael first used this idea in reference to Barbra Streisand’s performance in her film debut Funny Girl, the concept will never change. In a culture that often values image over substance and beauty over everything, it’s important to remember Kael’s words.

*It is challenging to capture a voice like Platt’s and try to make a contemporary sounding pop record. Pop today is an auto-tuned-written-from-the-track-up-simple-melody-no-harmony-minor-chord-favoring-dismal-affair. The pressure to conform to radio trends is diametrically opposed to Broadway and there will be intense pressure to make a commercial record with radio potential. This is the Bermuda Triangle that has kept singers from Billy Porter to Idina Menzel from having hit songs.

You may also enjoy:

David Bowie and Annie Lennox at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, 1992: One of the Best Live Performances Ever

Pink’s “Over the Rainbow”: Whatever Happened to Phrase. Ing?

The Night Elton John Told Elaine Stritch, “This is ‘Your Song'” — and She Kept It'”

Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” Little Secret

Melisamania! The Art of Good Singing Has a Terrible Case of the Runs

Annie Ross: The Singer as Actor

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