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June 19, 2024

Ahead of Philly show, Ben Platt opens up about writing Americana music from a queer perspective

The Broadway star, who plays the Academy of Music on Friday, also discusses filming the movie adaptation of the musical 'Merrily We Roll Along.'

Music Concerts
Ben Platt Honeymind Provided image/Christine Wolff

Ben Platt started his 'Honeymind' tour on Tuesday. It stops in Philadelphia at the Academy of Music on Friday at 8 p.m.

After 18 nights in residency in New York's Palace Theater and concerts in Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, actor-singer Ben Platt arrives in town Friday for a concert at the Academy of Music.

Platt is best known for singing other people's music in "Pitch Perfect" and the Broadway musical "Dear Evan Hansen," for which he won a Tony award. But he writes his own, too. His latest tour is in support of his third album, "Honeymind," an Americana and folk album largely inspired by Platt's fiance and fellow Broadway star Noah Galvin. 

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"As I was writing this album and I was turning 30 and I was in like a slightly more comfortable, more settled place in my life, I think I was really responding to music that was plaintive and unadorned and very much songwriting-forward," he said Friday as he prepared for his final New York shows. "Just as few bells and whistles I suppose as possible.

"And then I think as I started to write, I became much more consciously excited by the idea, particularly because my perspective is such an expressly queer one. And there aren't a lot of opportunities that I've had to hear music that is very, traditionally, quote unquote American or exists within Americana sound and Americana imagery that is also very, particularly queer. And I think the idea of that crossroads just sparked a lot of really fun sessions and ideas and songs. I loved that combination."

Philadelphia will be the third stop on Platt's tour, which kicked off Tuesday in Boston. It's a familiar city for Platt, who comes from a family of University of Pennsylvania alums. All four of his siblings attended, as well as his parents, who bonded on a student production of "Peter Pan." (His dad, Broadway and film producer Marc Platt, was directing, and his mom, Julie, was co-starring as Mrs. Darling.) But college wasn't in the cards for Platt, a striving theater kid who began performing in regional and touring productions when he was in middle school. He made his Broadway debut in "The Book of Mormon" before his 21st birthday, and "just knew that was my path that I really wanted to continue on."

His current shows focus on songs from "Honeymind," with a few tracks from Platt's previous two albums and covers of "Joni Mitchell and James Taylor type stuff," he said, along with a "musical theater moment." Brandy Clark, the country singer-songwriter and scribe behind the Broadway musical "Shucked," is joining him on every stop of the tour, though Platt isn't ruling out additional surprise guests. 

Celebrity duet partners were a hallmark of his New York residency, which featured a different musician or musical theater star each evening. Kacey Musgraves kicked off the trend with a performance of "Rainbow" during the residency's May 28 opener, and Philadelphia's Leslie Odom, Jr. appeared two days later. Odom and Platt sang "The Sound of Silence" by Simon & Garfunkel, an act that Platt cites as a key influence. (He also believes he shares a "scary" resemblance to young Paul Simon.)

"I love Simon & Garfunkel and in terms of 'Honeymind,' their music as well as Paul Simon's solo music was one of the primary inspirations and references and just a world that I really wanted to emulate," Platt said. "I sort of thought to myself, of all the people that I'm hoping to sing with, who would I love to be in a modern Simon & Garfunkel with? Who's got that lyricism and that slight jazziness and the vocal ability and the storytelling, and you know, it's Leslie with flying colors."

Platt won't have much time to relax this year, between his tour and wedding prep. He's also in the middle of filming the movie adaptation of the musical "Merrily We Roll Along," an ambitious project that will be filmed over 20 years to follow the timeline of the story. (A revival of the show starring Jonathan Groff, Daniel Radcliffe and Lindsay Mendez recently netted four Tonys.) According to Platt, he and his co-stars Beanie Feldstein and Paul Mescal gathered earlier this year to film the second sequence, but don't know when shooting will resume.

"It's a bizarre one," he said. "We shoot following the timeline of the show, which is nine different sequences that take place over the course of about 18, 19 years and usually have anywhere from a 1-3 year gap between them. So we shot the first one, then dispersed for two years, came back together and shot the second one. ... So it's sort of like these little short films that I get to do that are Stephen Sondheim, which is the greatest, and are with my friend Beanie. I'm trying not to look too far ahead 'cause it's such a wild undertaking."

When things finally do slow down for Platt, he's looking forward to spending time with his dog George — named after the painter Georges Seurat — and Galvin. The couple met as Galvin was taking over Platt's role in "Dear Evan Hansen" and began dating just before the onset of COVID-19. Their love of road trips is reflected in the music video for Platt's single "Cherry on Top," which finds the pair driving around in a vintage convertible.

"During the pandemic, that was like the only option," he said. "We really walked into it realizing we were kind of each other's people and we had a lot of road trips upstate in California to Napa and Big Sur and Malibu and the Yucca Valley. One of my happiest places is definitely singing along to obscure musicals in the car with Noah."

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