Roller-coaster ride of relatable scenarios

The name may not ring a bell instantly, but if you are a fan of the Pitch Perfect movies, you are likely to have spotted him - he plays the scene-stealing role of magician-wannabe Benji Applebaum, the room-mate of the male lead.

However, if you are into Broadway, then Ben Platt is the man, having nearly achieved an EGOT (the winner of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards) at the age of 25 - the Oscar still out of his grasp at this stage.

He is already feted for a string of hit productions, such as The Book Of Mormon and Dear Evan Hansen, winning acclaim for his performance as the title character in the latter, including a Tony award for Best Actor In A Musical.

Now on the threshold of pop fame, he is likely to catapult into the stratosphere with the debut of his solo studio album, Sing To Me Instead.

Focused on the narrative arc of a man going through a break-up, it is titled partly because he would prefer a lover sing his feelings out rather than talk them out and, also, partly it's a rebuke of the predominance of "Auto-Tune and computers and hooks and trap beats… just, like, sing a song instead".

The results are an old-school, no-gimmicks, pop-crooner kind of record, without pretence to coolness or reliance on technical wizardry.

Platt possesses a voice well-trained on stage, meaning it is limber and strong when it needs to be and soft and vulnerable when the lights are down.

If one wants to nitpick, one wishes he can sometimes break through the unfailing, well, pitch-perfectness - a tic learnt from theatre - and let one see the heart in its bleeding gore.


  • POP

    SING TO ME INSTEAD

    Ben Platt

    Atlantic

    4 Stars

That said, the record provides a rare glimpse into a star comfortable with his warts and all and not have to pussyfoot around gender pronouns.

It is Platt as Platt, not hiding behind his well-known stage or film personae.

Inspired by the storytelling nous of Carole King, Adele and James Taylor, the album is an emotional roller-coaster, with a set of relatable scenarios for all, a 20something Everyman pitched between the more allusive Sam Smith and the more arch drama-mama Rufus Wainwright.

There is the hapless Platt flagellating in the mid-tempo, gospel-tinged Bad Habit, who clings to a toxic relationship even when he recognises it: "Look at me smile with tears in my eyes/I love the way you lie, I do."

Even better is the counterpoint between quiet, piano moments and the predictable gospel flourish in Ease My Mind, a song which gives thanks to a lover who helps soothe his anxiety disorder.

Sure, he can belt out those huge, galumphing emotions much favoured by reality singing shows, such as in the obvious anthem, Temporary Love, but one much prefers the pared-down confessionals in which the bell-clear impact of his voice hits the hardest.

In the piano dirge, In Case You Don't Live Forever, he remembers his late great-uncle, "the only other queer member of my family that I knew about".

"I follow your steps with my feet/I walk on the road that you started," he sings, and no one doubts the sincerity of each word.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2019, with the headline 'Roller-coaster ride of relatable scenarios'. Print Edition | Subscribe