Broadway has made more than a few solo vocal stars — Idina Menzel, Robert Goulet, Leslie Odom Jr., and Barbra Streisand to name a few.
Ben Platt, however, is a different animal: one who purrs, not roars. He doesn’t bellow or bolt for the rafters with each clarion call.
Platt first showcased his abilities when he starred in the tenderly dramatic and tremulous Pacek and Paul musical “Dear Evan Hansen” as its quirky, hushed, titular character — a tragicomic role that landed him a Tony. He also won a Grammy for his part in its Atlantic label soundtrack and even a Daytime Emmy for performing several of its songs on NBC’s “Today” show.
Now Platt has released his debut solo album, “Sing to Me Instead,” whereon the actor, singer and writer co-penned all 12 of the album’s tracks. His first solo show was in Philly on Sunday – Mother’s Day – at The Met Philly.
Though he’ll forever be associated with his strong Broadway performance — “the kid with the broken arm,” said Platt — nothing from the Evan Hansen cast album was part of Platt’s Sunday set list. He never even mentioned it or his other star turn, “The Book of Mormon.” Instead, this night was all about the soaring solo, free from the constraints of his alter egos.
A chatty convivial host, Pratt talked about his family’s scholastic relationship with UPenn, Jewish summer camp, coming out at age 12 to a progressive family — “It was no big deal to them. They already knew” — a childhood love of heroines in “The Wizard of Oz” and “Wicked,” his recently deceased grandmother, and of course his mom. Each word Platt uttered drew cheering worthy of The Beatles at Shea Stadium.
Platt’s quavering baritone voice — like a zealous and young Paul Simon swallowed whole the soul of an older Anohni — matched his sophisticated folk-pop-jazz melodies and open, rich instrumental arrangements. Deeply personal lyrics provided insight into old feelings and overlooked and overdrawn relationships.
If it was a shuffling, soft-shoed balladry and brushed-denim soul you were after, stopping at Platt’s solo Philly debut was an answer to the prayer.
Opulent, winding vocal turns on “Honest Man” and “Hurt Me Once” were met with Platt’s tales of past relationships. Beyond the buoyant balladry, Platt’s up-tempo material such as “Share Your Address” showed a command of songbooks from both the Motown 60s and the Great White Way 70s — particularly in the way he interacted with his three powerfully soulful and delicately nuanced background singers. “Older” was a hammering piano player’s dream.
Even his choice of covers — Brandi Carlisle’s “The Joke,” Stevie Wonder’s winnowing “Overjoyed,” Elton John’s rousingly gospel-like, “Take Me to the Pilot” — sounded as warm and inspiring as his self-penned material. Still, it was Platt’s work the fans responded to more.
Fans in Philly adored Platt, and quite frankly, rightly so. If he played only solo material and maybe a “Dear Evan Hansen” track, the audience response might go from praise to a little bit obsessive.