At the Tony Award party I attended, a fellow partygoer disparaged Ben Platt after he won "Best Leading Actor in a Musical," saying Platt's producer-dad was the reason for his victory. I almost leaped across the coffee table to wring the guy's neck because,
a) I'd had a couple of "Sam Pinkle-tinis,"
b) This guy was a THEATRE KID who should’ve known better.
c) Because I'd seen Platt in the role three times over the course of five months and could say without a doubt that no one deserved the award more than Ben Platt. I would have let this partygoer's aberrant opinion go, but in the days following his win, I watched Internet trolls blew up social media with bitterness and outrage, crediting Platt's father for his win. And that's just not true.
When I saw Platt during previews, I was blown away by his talent but unconvinced that he could maintain the quality and depth of performance I saw throughout the course of an eight-show-a-week-one-year-in run. Three months later I saw him again, and he did. And then two months later I saw him again (after seeing his understudy) and he did. He did. He does. He will. He's a theatrical unicorn. He's history in the making. He's the type of performer whose performance prickles your skin and makes your heart race and eyes brim with tears. He's the beating heart behind Dear Evan Hansen, and that's a fact that has nothing to do with his father.
There's no doubt that Platt, despite any privilege or opportunity his background has afforded him, put in the sweat equity to create the role of Evan Hansen. Some 200 odd performances later he's living a self-proclaimed monk-like existence outside the theatre to make sure that the integrity and intensity of his performance never falls below his stringent standards.
As long as I'm doing this role, everything has to be in service of that. I don't want there to be a single performance where people leave feeling like they didn't get the best I could offer. *
And he does. The role of Evan is emotionally complex, physically draining and incredibly challenging. Platt doesn't just meet the challenge; he crushes it, night after night after night. His technical consistency, emotional connection and electrifying presence create the perfect storm for a soul-baring performance unlike any I’ve ever seen in musical theatre. His reverence, dedication and passion for this role, this story and this show are indicative of an artist who has worked tirelessly from the very beginning to today, so let's give credit to the actor putting in the work.
Never, in my thirty-odd years of theatre going, have I watched an audience take in a theatrical event in the striking similarity that they do en masse at Dear Evan Hansen. I've never had a woman hand me Kleenex in the bathroom line saying, "Me too, me too" while she dabs her own tears and nods in understanding at mine. I've never listened to a teenager in the seat behind me sob through one of Platt's songs and make me wonder what story he lives that connects him to this one. I've never experienced the kind of community that this show seems to evoke from an audience of strangers who will never see one another other again, but seemingly treat each other with a tiny bit more kindness, compassion and understanding as they leave the theatre. His performance does the thing that theatrical performances should do: provokes, inspires, and cracks open vulnerability and creates change.
So if you want to be up in arms about injustice in the theatre community, go for it.
Be incensed that Indecent struggled to stay open despite being a beautiful, timely show written by Puitzer Prize winning Paula Vogel and directed by Tony award winning Rachel Taichman. Be irate that Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, Lynn Nottage’s remarkable, powerful show Sweat, in its final week practically gave away tickets. Be pissed that Scott Rudin closed last year's Shuffle Along despite the fact that it was a wildly important, socially relevant show. Be up in arms over the fact that women and minorities are still vastly under-represented in the theatre world, but get the hell over this.
Because if you've seen Ben Platt perform, you know: words fail.
*Lovell, Joel (2017, May 10) How a 23-Year-Old With Mild Anxiety and a Charmed Life Became the Lying, Sobbing, Lovesick Toast of Broadway. The New York Times
Lindsay Timmington is an playwright, actor and director based in New York City. She holds a Masters Degree in Playwriting and Performance from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and studied at the College of St. Benedict as well as East 15 Acting School in London, England. She recently completed her second full length play, torn sweater, about James Dean, photographer Roy Schatt and a teenager hell-bent on chasing Dean’s ghost. When she’s not at the theatre, she’s running, drinking scotch or cheering for the Mets. She also writes at www.shattertheshouldbe.com.