Platt wrote or co-wrote every song on Sing to Me Instead, which Atlantic will release March 29. For the label, investing in Platt is both a leap of faith -- that his combination of talent and authenticity will resonate way beyond his core Evan Hansen fan base -- and a test: Pop crossovers are historically difficult for even the most beloved Broadway performers.
But at a moment when the pop and musical theater worlds share more than ever, Atlantic is betting that Platt is, in the words of president of A&R Pete Ganbarg, a “unicorn” who will not only find success but also longevity -- perhaps taking his place one day alongside the patron saint of musical theater crossover, Barbra Streisand. But Platt’s music manager, Adam Mersel, and the Atlantic team tout a more contemporary comparison: Childish Gambino, a boundary-pushing artist who can also act. Platt appeared in the first two Pitch Perfect films as a magic-loving outcast, and his first major TV role will be in Ryan Murphy’s Netflix comedy, The Politician, slated for Sept. 27.
The idea of Ben Platt, Solo Artist was born two years ago, when Atlantic Records chairman/CEO Craig Kallman and Ganbarg went to see him in Dear Evan Hansen. “After Act 1, Craig looked at me like, ‘Why are you not backstage signing Ben Platt to a solo deal right now?’ ” recalls Ganbarg. It wasn’t until Atlantic was working on the show’s Broadway cast recording -- which debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 and won a Grammy -- that Platt had time to seriously mull the idea.
He wasn’t interested in a Great American Songbook album or theater covers. Instead, he wanted to step outside of his Broadway past (at least for now). He had written before -- parodies of theater songs for family events like bar mitzvahs and weddings, and improv sketches in high school. Immediately after moving into a New York apartment with its own piano, he started working on stripped-down songs with close guidance from Atlantic senior director A&R Jeff Levin. A fan of Platt’s performance in Dear Evan Hansen, Levin initially saw him as a risk. “It’s an unlikely scenario to take someone from a theater background and find their own voice,” he says. “They’ve been trained their whole lives to be someone else. It’s a scary thing.” At his first meeting with Platt, “I sat there and said, ‘I think you’re the best singer in the world -- but it’s important for me to know who you are.’ ”
One deep hang later, during which they discussed everything from breakups to the music they loved most, they were convinced they could make an album. Levin introduced Platt to songwriters who matched his soulful storytelling sensibility, including Ben Abraham (who co-wrote Kesha’s “Praying”) and Jenn Decilveo (who co-wrote Andra Day’s “Rise Up”). That same raw, emotional honesty is what Platt aims to bring on every song off the album, even when it comes to addressing, for the first time publicly, his experience as a gay man. “I found, as I was writing, it was very naturally becoming about the men I’ve been with and have loved,” says Platt. “I never thought about editing that in any way.”
To Platt and his team, the album is paramount, and success won’t mean singles on the Billboard Hot 100. Even so, he has a built-in fan base. Starting in early May, he’ll play 12 concert dates at venues like New York’s Beacon Theatre, which, according to the team, moved all of its tickets in presale. Those audiences will hear the Platt who eventually revealed himself that night at the Bowery: a consummate live performer who embraces vulnerability. “The pop stars I love the most, like Adele and Sam Smith, are the ones who, when you spend an evening with them or listen to the album, you feel like you know them in a way that others don’t,” says Platt. “I have no interest in the untouchable stuff.”