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Ben Platt brings pandemic-inspired album to life on tour

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Ben Platt

After a canceled tour last spring Ben Platt will perform at Hard Rock’s Etess Arena Saturday, Oct. 1.

The past couple of years have brought out scores of songs and albums inspired by the COVID pandemic, many of which have explored the experiences, challenges and the emotions of this historic period of uncertainty and isolation from a literal first-person perspective.

“Reverie,” the second album from actor/singer/songwriter Ben Platt — who comes to Etess Arena at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City 8 p.m. Saturday Oct. 1 — was strongly impacted by the pandemic as well. But he didn’t write songs that are directly about the pandemic; instead, Platt used the pandemic to take him back to a time and place that helped shape the lyrical narrative and musical style of the album.

With America locking down, Platt returned to live with family in the home in which he grew up, staying in his childhood bedroom, a setting that brought back a flood of memories that filtered into the lyrics on “Reverie.”

“In the literal sense, the fact that the pandemic sort of displaced me to my former bedroom, with living with my parents and being surrounded by my old posters and clothes and yearbooks and things, I think that ended up being sort of a very fruitful, kind of inspirational place to write from, and to even use my old keyboard from high school to sort of write on,” Platt explains in a recent interview.

To that end, “Reverie” is framed by three interludes, the album-opening “King of the World, pt. 1,” mid-album intermission of “King of the World, pt. 2” and album-closing “King of the World, pt. 3,” and those songs provided a framework for the lyrics and overall thematic journey of the album.

“I think that a huge inspiration for me on the album in general was feeling sort of caught between two different stages, in the sense that I was living in my childhood bedroom because of the pandemic and feeling sort of stuck between my younger teenage self and like the nostalgia of that experience and then sort of the evolution and adulthood that comes along with being in a relationship and (the isolation) the pandemic has sort of caused,” Platt said. “And so I found that using the three parts of the song we wrote — the sort of beginning that explores youth, the middle that explores love (Platt is in a relationship with actor Noah Galvin, known for his roles in “The Good Doctor” and “The Real O’Neals”), and the end that explores sort of mortality — became a really beautiful way to kind of encapsulate the whole narrative of the album.”

As for the music on “Reverie,” it finds Platt – whose numerous theater, television and film roles include “The Book of Mormon” and originating the title character in “Dear Evan Hansen” and reprising that role in the recent movie adaptation of the play — breaking free to an extent from the kind of theatrical music for which he has been known and settling into a sound informed predominantly by 1980s/early ‘90s rock/ pop.

He said “Rain,” a stand-alone single he released between his first album, “Sing To Me Instead,” and the writing and recording of “Reverie” helped him feel he didn’t need to be tethered to the theatrical world with his own music.

“I think the freedom of kind of releasing stylistically into something a bit different and into a space that wasn’t so obviously tied to theater or a sort of theatrical sound or a more classical sound — not that I, again, don’t love those things and that they don’t also have influence in ‘Reverie’ — I think that just allowing myself to depart in that way felt very authentically progressive in a way that I didn’t necessarily expect.”

And then that time spent in his childhood bedroom and home during the pandemic further focused the style of the songs Platt recorded for “Reverie.”

“I sort of let that inform the music that came,” Platt said. “And so I think that’s what brought sort of the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, like nostalgia kind of a sound, sort of like a Peter Gabriel, kind of Phil Collins feeling, because that’s a lot of the music that I grew up listening to my older siblings play in their rooms and that’s just sort of where it naturally went.”

There is, indeed, a Collins-esque pop feel to much of “Reverie,” as on songs like “Leave My Mind,” “Childhood Bedroom” and “Dance With You,” layers of retro-ish synths and percolating synthetic percussion wrap around the melancholy melodies of these mid-tempo songs. Over the second half of the album, a more organic instrumental tone emerges on songs like “Carefully,” “Dark Times” and “Come Back” that reflects the more adult themes of these tunes.

Platt was very involved in writing the material for “Reverie,” working extensively with his executive producer, Michael Pollack, as well as several outside writers, including Shane McAnally, Jon Bellion, Ian Kirkpatrick and Julia Michaels.

“I would say more often than not the songs that I respond to the most or that I am the most inclined to fall in love with conceptually come from me,” Platt said, explaining his collaborative writing process. “So generally, I’ll come in with, if not the phrase itself, something in my own life or some sort of experience that I’m hoping to write about. And then I think from that point, it becomes a pretty equal collaboration in terms of, sometimes depending on the collaborator, it starts with some noodling musically and finding a chord progression that feels like it matches that, or just writing as many lyrics we can think of and picking our favorites.”

Platt sees a definite evolution in the kind of music he made on “Reverie.”

“I think, I would hope that I’ve kind of given myself a little bit more freedom and cut myself a bit more slack in terms of focusing more on what do I enjoy singing and performing as opposed to what do I think maybe others would expect me to sing and perform?” Platt said. “I think the elements of narrative and theatricality and emotionality and the things that I’ve always had as part of my performance, I think will be ever present. But I think with ‘Reverie,’ I allowed myself to stray, in a more superficial and stylistic sense, a lot more from that and explore other kinds of music that bring me joy and that I feel express the moment that I’m going through.”

After canceling a spring run because of the pandemic, Platt is excited to finally go on tour this fall. As opposed to theater, where he performs as a character, he’ll get to perform his own songs from his two solo albums and be completely himself on stage. He’ll, of course, feature songs from “Reverie,” as well as from “Sing To Me Instead” and hinted there may also be a few musical surprises.

“It will have a lot of the vestiges of the first tour,” Platt said of his show, “in the sense that (it will incorporate) the things that make me me in terms of trying to combine the feeling of a tempo-filled, top show where there’s standing and dancing and kind of celebration and energy, and then also having room to have more of a classical sort of Adele, Barbara Streisand experience where we’re sitting and listening and I’m able to share stories and sing a few ballads and give a bit more of an emotional performance. I think that what excites me about this particular tour is really balancing between those two energies and those two kind of performance styles and trying to make them symbiotic and kind of flow in and out of each other and not kind of give over entirely to one.”

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