From Camp Ramah To Broadway Star
At the end of Ben Platt’s first film, “Pitch Perfect” (2012), there’s a moment when Platt steps into the spotlight for an a cappella solo. His profoundly nerdy character, Benjamin Applebaum — profoundly Jewish, too — looks so nervous, and so eager, that you think he might not actually manage to open his mouth.
He does open his mouth, tentatively singing the first line of [B.o.B.’s “Magic” (“I’ve got the magic in me”) and letting slip a disbelieving smile. Platt, 24, has proved his impressiveness as an actor in such parts, none more staggering than the title role in “Dear Evan Hansen.” The musical, which Platt has been associated with since it was in development in 2014, is an intimate story of teenage strife: Evan, an anxious loner, tells a small lie — saying he was friends with an unpopular classmate who committed suicide — that spins out of control.
Critical consensus was that the show was great, but Platt made it astonishing. When it opened on Broadway in December 2016, Charles Isherwood wrote in The New York Times that his performance was “not likely to be bettered on Broadway this season.” (It wasn’t: Platt won Tony, Obie, Drama League and Lucille Lortel awards for his star turn.) “Platt is giving one of the greatest leading male performances I’ve ever seen in a musical,” Time Out New York’s Adam Feldman wrote.
But Platt’s first big role came as a teenager, when he starred as Sky Masterson in an all-Hebrew version of “Guys and Dolls” at Camp Ramah in California. The Conservative Jewish camp, which he attended for several years, was “the first place that I was allowed to decide for myself what kind of Jew I would be,” he said at an alumni event.
“Going to camp and being your own person there, and learning how to socialize with all these other Jewish kids and discuss Judaism openly was a huge impactful thing for me, and that is kind of the reason that I am still very close to my Judaism,” he added.
Platt will depart “Dear Evan Hansen” in November, and has yet to announce his next project. When he does, it will likely bring to mind the first words of that long-ago “Pitch Perfect” solo: He’s got the magic in him.