Dear Ben Platt,
Thursday night was going to be an amazing night and here’s why. Because you were going to make your Minneapolis debut at Target Center. With Aly and AJ opening, no less.
All you had to do was be yourself. Sing some of your original songs, do some Broadway favorites and a few choice covers. Be true to yourself, be true to your career.
And you were yourself — an unapologetically dorky, in-the-moment performer with easy quips, an uninhibitedly exuberant and quirky dancer, a vulnerable soul not afraid to discuss anxieties and insecurities in conversation and song.
Loved how you rolled with the crowd spontaneously singing happy 29th birthday to you two days early. Enjoyed your commenting in vivid detail about your nail polish even though, let’s be honest, no one in the arena could really see all the nuances of the icy blue with chrome and a little stone. And your rhinestone-covered water bottle was, as you suggested, so musical theater.
Every time you mentioned musical theater, the crowd, especially the young women, went bananas. Do we like musical theater in Minneapolis? Of course, we do. But we got to hear only one Broadway song from you. And it was from “Waitress,” your pal Sara Bareilles’ show. “She Used to Be Mine” was a splendid showcase for your bravura voice and a delicious slice of Great White Way drama.
But where were tunes from the musical that made you Tony-winning famous? I was hoping for “Waving Through a Window” and “You Will Be Found” from “Dear Evan Hansen.” Be yourself, Ben. Isn’t that your mantra?
Let’s talk about covers, shall we? You did Lady Gaga’s “You and I,” which you recorded for the 2021 tribute album “Born This Way Reimagined.” She started her version with twangy swag and segued into bold rock guitars. You went the more conventional big pop route, adding some crowd-pleasing theatrics Thursday, rolling around the stage, even singing on your back.
The other cover — Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” with Aly and AJ joining you — was simply let-your-hair-down karaoke. It was a nice change of pace and texture. And your show was well paced, even if a little short at 75 minutes.
But I wanted to hear Brandi Carlile’s “The Joke,” which you did for your Radio City Music Hall special a couple years ago. You are one of the few singers — of any gender — who has the vocal range to pull off those stratospheric notes of this challenging tune.
You thought you’d be yourself by singing songs that you wrote. Like nearly tune from last year’s “Reverie,” your second pop album. To be frank, the album is overproduced, trying too hard to be synth-pop trendy. Therefore, despite some heartfelt lyrics and vocals, it didn’t feel as personal as your first album, “Sing to Me Instead.”
However, in concert, the “Reverie” numbers were underproduced, defined by bass and drum rhythms instead of a heavy wash of electronica. That meant that your voice — that wonderfully emotional, rangy instrument — was up front as it should be.
I especially appreciated “I Wanna Love You But I Don’t” with its contrasts of soft and loud, and “Happy To Be Sad” with your falsetto striking at the heart.
Of your older material, I really liked “Share Your Address,” a smart bop with a beat, and “Rain,” which felt like Maroon 5’s Adam Levine trying to join Florence + the Machine.
It was encouraging to hear your new unrecorded “Monsters,” a striking solo piano piece that’s difficult to pull off in an arena but you smartly set it up by talking about your younger, forever-anxious self.
Like the “Reverie” material on Thursday, the entire presentation felt underproduced. A simple stage with no costume changes, no video screens and no bells and whistles. Neither the performance nor the crowd of maybe 4,000 filled the arena.
Minneapolis isn’t the Big Apple. You may be ready for Madison Square Garden next week, but not Target Center on a Thursday night.
Think about it, Ben. This could have been an absolutely amazing night in a theater or auditorium. Instead, it was a very good one that will be engraved in the memories of a precious few thousand Minnesota musical theater lovers.
Thanks for coming to Minneapolis,