In this much anticipated Netflix special, Ben Platt takes us on a rousing church-like musical journey that is not only a triumph of his music, but a mighty testament to his truth.
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“Usually when I come up on a stage ever since I was like 6 or 7 years old, I’m disguised as one thing or another. A very nerdy magician perhaps, a very strange Mormon missionary, or perhaps kid with a broken arm perhaps,” begins Ben Platt, fully lassoing us into rapt attention from the captivating piano-led introduction of Bad Habit, the lead single that gave us the encapsulation of his debut album, Sing To Me Instead. (Everybody needs a friend, it’s true / Someone to quiet the voices in my head / Make ‘em sing to me instead, it’s you.) “But this year is the first time I’ve gotten to come on to the stage as myself and be myself, and that’s because you decided to come and spend your time with me. So, I can’t thank you enough for letting me do that. It’s wonderful.”
Just as he sings in Temporary Love, there is a highly palpable and almost intuitive tug of gravity emanating from the screen, pulling us closer with every note dribbled, every word sung, and orchestration opening up the hallowed enclave to the musical journey of the actor and singer in the Netflix concert special. Ben Platt Live From Radio City Music Hall reveals itself to be an unraveling of emotions, essayed in charming chapters that immediately strike a relatable chord in the viewer’s perspective. The stories are familiar, neatly threaded by real life anecdotes and accounts that are more conversation than a grand exposition as is in the familiar medium of the theater.
The impressive curtain of the iconic Radio City Music Hall are half drawn, a considerable hollow in the scale of the space, dressed up only with a glowing ring, strewn rugs, a stool, an assembly of musical pieces, and of course, a wash of lights that are perhaps the only larger-than-life decoration in what otherwise appeared to be a living room that felt settled in and familiar. “I really wanted this to feel as warm and welcoming as possible, and that you felt comfortable, and that you could have a good time, and that we could get to know each other a little bit,” he explains. “Because I don’t get to do that when I’m playing a character.”
Stripped down to the bare bones of emotional entertainment, Ben Platt Live From Radio City Musical Hall is honest, bringing the songs and stories to the fore, ultimately giving us more than just a glimpse of the man that he is. “I’ve said all I can / I am who I am / And I am an honest man,” he croons in a composition unbound from sentimental pretense, which puts him in the same untouchable league of Adele and Sam Smith. “As you can tell by the last song, I really love to sort of be in my feelings, as it were, use music to process those sad things, which is important for sure, and we should all do that, but I also think music is meant to help us feel ourselves a bit,” he muses after slowing things down with Hurt Me Once, before playing the room up with New, a punchy empowered pop number that not only showcased his beguiling vocals, but also a unique sense of sass that allowed him to throw his head back, shifting and tilting to the spirit of the song.
Apart from it being a venue to paint Ben Platt as a singer and songwriter, the concert tour that accompanied the release of Sing To Me Instead was also an opportunity for him to perform songs that are close to his heart, one of which was Brandi Carlisle’s The Joke, a soaring country rock aria that is electrifying as it is hopeful. Hitting a steady stride in the set list, he unleashes a bomb of a rendition with Better, a passionate plea of chance, and Share Your Address, a slice of self-awareness that speaks of many who fall head over heels in love in this day and age. But it is in the incandescent telling of Ease My Mind, a distillation of anxiety that positions Ben Platt as a performer who can hold his own ground separate from the fragments of fiction that have inched him as one of the most important artists defining the culture of entertainment.
If anything, this musical introduction as a headliner is not only a testament to his ability to command a sold out show in a major musical venue, but also a carved out triumph of truth that compels you to do the same, too, in whatever capacity. From dancing to prose of precipitation in Rain, articulating an indescribable amount of love to your parents in In Case You Don’t Live Forever, to bursting at the seams with soul from Elton John’s classic ditty, Take Me To The Pilot, there is slice of life wedged in the corners of Ben Platt’s world.
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“Do you like my sweat, Netflix?” he says in jest, taking a moment to recover from the heaps of bouncing, gliding, and shimmying, which didn’t for one second compromise his voice that were bold, masterful strokes in soaring and sustained notes and of course, that signature vibrato that truly has a life well lived on its own. Submitting himself to the ebb and flow of his stories, Ben Platt serenades us to Grow As We Go, a poignant concentration of emotional space and movement, which at this point is where he becomes understandably unhinged to the moment. “I don’t want to talk about it, because I don’t want to cry, and I have to sing another song, but its just like, I look out at everybody and think about what’s happening right now and I can’t believe it’s my life,” he says, before belting out the gospel of Older. “I looked at all the points in my life in which I was either looking forward, looking backward, looking anywhere but where I was and as I’ve said a bajillion times, I’m a very anxious person, so I live very much in my head and I have a really hard time being present where I am,” he details. “And one of the number one ways and special ways for me to do that is to sing music and play music. So, you’ve given me such a gift by coming here and letting me do that for you. And I hope that, if anything else, this hour and a half or whatever it’s been, has helped you forget your worries and troubles and just be here with me and I hope the song does the same.”
Music, as Ben Platt explains, “is something that really can bring people together, and can help you see someone in a way that you don’t expect to, and see somebody’s perspective,” which is in every way emblematic of the fruition that is his concert. “When a character sings, you get to see inside of them, you get to see their soul, and I don’t think what I would do without that knowledge,” he furthers, finally punctuating the exhilarating church-like experience that was Ben Platt Live From Radio City Music Hall with Run Away, a quiet number that finishes strong and lingers with a promise. “I may not be wise / And I won’t save the day / But look in my eyes / And know I’ll always stay / And I won’t run away.”
In the end, he not only got to wear his heart on his sleeve (in this case, a floral-printed button-down paired with bright cobalt high-waisted trousers) and sing his heart out, but he also got to show a different, more realized side to him that is all at once quiet, honest, and brimming with soul that not only speaks of a fundamental truth, but of so many possibilities to not only tell his stories, but appropriately narrate ours as well in song.