“Just one condition: Promise me you won’t get all weird.”
That’s what Jesse, the leading man in the 2012 movie “Pitch Perfect,” tells his amateur magician roommate about the nerd-eat-nerd world of collegiate a cappella groups. Roommate Benji (played by Ben Platt) accepts Jesse’s invitation to sing in the Treblemakers by saying, “Deal, although, I don’t know what you mean by weird.” Then a white dove lands on his black-caped shoulder. “Maybe I do,” he says.
A few scenes later, Platt’s character has his big solo, crooning “I’ve Got the Magic in Me” in a dreamy falsetto, while just offstage, Anna Kendrick’s character, Beca, breaks out into a wide-eyed grin.
Embracing your weirdness, and being accepted by your peers despite it, is a major theme of “Pitch Perfect,” the upcoming “Pitch Perfect 2” and “Dear Evan Hansen,” a new musical starring Platt and debuting at Arena Stage this summer in what is probably a pre-Broadway tune-up. The buzzworthy Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“Smash,” “A Christmas Story”) wrote the music and lyrics, and Steven Levenson (“Masters of Sex”) the book. Michael Greif, who brought both “If/Then” and “Next to Normal” to Washington on their way to New York, will direct. Platt will play Evan, a misfit high school senior whose misunderstood college entrance essay triggers a chain of unfortunate events.
“He’s riddled with social anxiety, and the musical is about how to connect with people when you have serious issues doing that,” said Platt, 21. “It’s a character that I love. He’s a very human and relatable person.”
Platt’s experience as a theater-loving kid growing up in celebrity-crazed Los Angeles isn’t entirely analogous to Evan’s situation, but it’s somewhat similar to the storyline of “Pitch Perfect.” He appeared in many shows at his high school and L.A.’s Center Theatre Group but “literally had his duffel bag packed” for New York and Columbia University when he learned that he had gotten the part in “Pitch Perfect.” Then Pratt was cast as Elder Cunningham in “The Book of Mormon” and deferred admission again. He’s now enrolled in a nontraditional studies program at Columbia that allows him to take classes when he’s between shows and movies.
Platt has been involved with “Dear Evan Hansen” since its first reading in January 2014, although he met Pasek and Paul when he auditioned for the duo’s musical “Dogfight” more than a year earlier.
“They both expressed real interest and said that I worked well with their material and that I should stay tuned,” Platt recalled. But actors often hear such post-audition platitudes, and Platt didn’t get the part. Months later, however, he got a follow-up call telling him that Pasek and Paul were developing a musical and that they wanted to write the lead character with him in mind.
“I came in and read for it, and we matched perfectly,” Platt said. “It was sort of like a dream. . . . Now I can’t wait for people to hear this musical.”
This year prolific local actress Holly Twyford received her 16th Helen Hayes nomination for her portrayal of a struggling novelist who hooks up with a blogger at an artists’ retreat in the play “Sex With Strangers.” We won’t know until the awards ceremony April 6 whether Twyford has won, but she’s already won something else: a summer trip to an artists’ retreat in the middle of the woods.
The Ten Chimneys Foundation announced last week that Twyford was one of 10 actors around the country to receive its annual acting fellowship. The six-year-old program brings leading regional performers to Genesee Depot, Wis., where they spend a week studying drama at an estate built by famed actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. Phylicia Rashad is this year’s master teacher.
Edward Gero, who is portraying Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at Arena Stage, also is among the fellows, although he received his Ten Chimneys’ residency under the auspices of Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, while Twyford was sponsored by Arena Stage.
Several local playwrights have received individual artist grants from the Maryland State Arts Council. Aaron Posner and Jon Klein took home the largest grants, receiving $6,000 each. Posner, a Silver Spring-based director, has described himself as taking “baby steps” toward becoming a playwright. In January, Theater J premiered Posner’s “Life Sucks,” the second in his series of adapted Chekhov plays.
Klein, who lives in Frederick County, also is affiliated with Theater J. His historical drama “Chance and Necessity” will lead off the theater’s Locally Grown festival as a staged reading March 30.
From Montgomery County, jurors chose John Becker, Martin Blank and Joshua Ford to receive $1,000 grants. They also awarded four $3,000 grants to D.C.-area residents Robert Alexander, Robert E. Bartlett Jr., Nelson J. Ginebra and William Dean Leary.
Altogether, 21 playwrights received grants, only four of whom are women. A spokeswoman for the arts council said that this year’s pool of applicants, who were judged anonymously by out-of-state jurors, contained a “somewhat greater” number of men.
Ritzel is a freelance writer.