Among Ben Platt’s Eclectic Inspirations? Judy Garland, Nashville, and Mushroom Chocolate

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In the halcyon days when Judy Garland performed at New York’s famed Palace Theater, it was, as Johnny Carson once put it, “bedlam.” Her outsize influence echoes to the present in Ben Platt’s new residency at the same theater, which he helped to reopen on Tuesday following a seven-year, $80 million dollar renovation.

Platt took inspiration from Garland—as well as her daughter Liza Minnelli—in constructing a one-man show that explores his life and career so far, from grappling with his queer identity in childhood to his explosive breakout with Dear Evan Hansen, and the many songs that have shaped him along the way.

Once his residency at the Palace wraps in mid-June, Platt will head off on a nationwide tour, including a two-night stop at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. That particular engagement isn’t random: Platt’s third album, the folk-tinged Honeymind (out on Friday), was recorded in Nashville, its 13 songs doubling as a diary of his life over the last two years. It’s no wonder, given he’s set to marry his longtime partner, the actor Noah Galvin, this fall, that most of the album’s tracks are about being in love.

From his dressing room shortly before his second performance at the Palace (for the first, he trotted out Kacey Musgraves as a surprise guest; last night, it was Kristen Chenoweth), Platt mused about the historic venue he’s currently calling home, his unabashedly autobiographical lyrics, and the unlikely Dear Evan Hansen song he’s including in his set.

Vogue: We’re catching you minutes away from taking the stage. Do you typically have any pre-show rituals?

Ben Platt: Yes, I have a warm-up with my voice teacher, Liz Caplan, for like 45 minutes to an hour. Sometimes it’s in person, but usually we go on FaceTime because she’s very in-demand. And twice a week I do PT, so I get prepped and needled and beat up and stuff. I eat a lot of protein, usually Dig [Inn], because it’s in Midtown. I also eat a bunch of protein bars and drink a jug of water.

Is that common for every show you do, to go through intense vocal warm-ups like that before each performance?

Yeah, that’s a major thing for me. Other than in Dear Evan Hansen, this is the most intense singing I’ve done consistently. But there’s always some variation whenever I sing. Parade wasn’t particularly vocally strenuous, so I’d do a half-hour version of it. But for this I do the utmost preparation to get as loose as possible so it can feel not so effortful.

What was intriguing for you about the extended engagement at The Palace?

I’ve alway been edging to combine the worlds of musical theater and the pop songwriting that I do; those are the two things that I like to inhabit the most. But it was one of those universe-intervention moments where they were getting ready to open the house right when we were [working on a] combination of those two things. It felt like an opportunity we couldn’t turn down that was exciting in a scary way; it was positively scary. It’s a beautiful summation of all the worlds that I come from in a way that’s unique to this theater, and also to performing on Broadway and doing my own one-man show-concert. It’s all of the things I’ve grown into and have been doing.

You sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as a tribute to Judy Garland and “Maybe This Time” in a tribute to Liza Minnelli. Why was that important to include in the show?

I think anybody playing here sort of needs to pay homage to Judy because she was such an integral part of reopening the space, particularly for one-man and one-woman concerts and residencies. But I always loved Judy in so many ways, growing up loving The Wizard of Oz and wishing I was Dorothy and loving the fantasy of that, along with her voice. And, in a subconscious way, identifying with her on a queer level because she’s such an icon in the community. And as I’ve gotten older and become my own performer, she makes me feel very inspired. Whenever she sings, you feel her giving her whole self to the stage, ripping out her vocal chords and throwing them to the audience. I think that sort of attack has always been so inspirational to me. I also have lots of different posters and artifacts of her in my house.

When it comes to your own show, were there any other one-man or one-woman shows you were inspired by?

Well, I’ve definitely seen many, whether Liza with a Z or the Judy at Carnegie album. I saw the Bruce Springsteen solo show too, so there were definitely some interesting flavors mixing. I tried very hard to just focus on what my instincts were and what my most organic version of this could be and how to make the night feel like my kind of evening. I think there could be a lot of pressure, obviously, with putting on something like this, particularly in this theater. The process was finding what I see in my head, what I want to sing, and what’s something I’d enjoy doing every night.

As for Honeymind, the album is a bit more country and folk-sounding than your past work. What was the impetus to nudge your sound into that direction?

When I write it’s pretty reflective of where I’m at as a person. With this album I just turned 30, and I’m getting ready to get married, so I feel a bit more settled into myself and a bit more comfortable. I just responded to music that was unadorned, plaintive, and narrative. So it felt like the right kind of sound for the things I was writing about, a lot of which were love songs. So I just connected that vibe, and the crossroads of it, especially from the queer perspective. I just really loved the combination of being soft and introspective, romantically mature, and also super gay. I wrote a lot of it in Nashville, and I think this sound is a really nice home base that I’ve been searching for.

Since you launched your career as a solo artist, you’ve been writing overt lyrics about the gay experience, which wasn’t all too common or mainstream until recently—a fact I think we take for granted now. I’m assuming that’s cathartic for you?

Definitely! I mean, first and foremost I write about what’s happening to me and what has happened to me; it’s all I really know how to write about. So naturally that’s going to be a very expressly queer experience in many ways. It won’t feel universal unless it’s very specific, so it never occurred to me to edit the details or the specifics of the experience back for any reason. I think when I started to write my first album, I didn’t necessarily go in expecting it would be meaningful in that way to me and others, but now I take great pride in continuing to do so. And so much of what I write is about Noah, and we’re gay. So, you can’t help that. [Laughs.]

I understand that the title for Honeymind, one word, came from a certain experience you had. Can you tell me about it?

I was on a hike with Noah and we were talking about very mushy things. It essentially was a kind of physical manifestation of being in love…slash being on drugs at the time, but mostly in love, and what it does to your brain. Especially for me, because I’m a very anxious person. I found that my relationship has been a really beautiful antidote and calming agent. So I imagine, in a visual sense, that it covers all the difficult things in my mind with something sweet and warm and soft, and honey came to mind, so I wrote a song called “Honeymind” and thought it was a beautiful moniker for the whole record.

But you’re burying the lead here, weren’t you on mushroom chocolates?

Well, yes.

And Noah offered them to you. Were you skittish about it?

No, not at that point. I’m a full-fledged participant on my own.

You said you sang the songs from Dear Evan Hansen so many times, you decided to sing a song from another character during the residency. It reminded me of Barbra Streisand, who wrote in her book that by the end of her run in Funny Girl she was totally over singing those songs, and as a result never did another Broadway show again. You’ve obviously had a different reaction since you’ve done more Broadway since, but what was the thinking behind the decision to avoid your own Hansen songs?

I sang them thousands and thousands of times and it just doesn’t give me creative joy to do them anymore, because I really milked them dry living the reality of them many, many, many times. But I love the show and am grateful for it and I definitely wanted to pay homage to it, which is why I wanted to find some way to include it. It’s a part of the set I really look forward to, when I sing “Requiem,” because it’s something I’ve never gotten to do before—to sing it, perform it, and find out what the experience is. It allows me to really acknowledge that history and my love for that show and re-immersing myself in it.

As someone who stars in Broadway, film, TV shows, how do you decide what to focus on at any one time? Why was it the right time for Honeymind?

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to pick things with real, sincere passion and intense enthusiasm. I think when you’re young and coming up, because I’ve had the privilege of experiencing success so early, you can get caught up in what are the right decisions on paper and what the “career-builders” are, quote-unquote. I think Noah’s an incredibly authentic person and that’s rubbed off on me, but also getting older and settling into who I am, I’ve realized I want to do things that are meaningful to me, and things I want to dive headfirst into as experiences, because you can’t predict the outcome, reaction, or external validation that will come from anything. In terms of the third album, I just decide to put one out when I had enough music. I started writing it in the spring of ’22, and once I had enough of a songbook of this period of my life and it felt like a full body of work, I was excited to return to that and put it out.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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