Broadway has a bright new star, and his name is Ben Platt.
The 23-year-old L.A. native — movie fans may know him as Benji from Pitch Perfect — is currently playing to sold-out-crowds and earning rave reviews for his emotionally raw performance in Dear Evan Hansen, the new musical from composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (the lyricists for the Golden Globe-winning film La La Land).
The musical has now been nominated for nine Tony Awards, including best musical and — yes — lead actor in a musical for Platt.
“It’s completely beyond my wildest dreams,” Platt told PEOPLE in January of all the attention the musical has received. “I’ll never stop having to pinch myself.”
As Platt’s buzz blossoms (he’s the frontrunner to win the Tony come June), here’s what you should know about the talented young actor.
1. Being on Broadway has been Platt’s dream since he was a little kid
Platt was bit by the musical theater bug when he was 6 years old — encouraged by his “big Jewish singing family” (his dad is La La Land and Wicked producer Marc Platt). He spent 10 years studying musical theater at the Adderley School for the Performing Arts in the Palisades, California.
“I sort of became overly obsessed with it, and just wanted to go to my theater class and do as many shows as I possibly could,” he says. “A few years in, it got to the point where my parents were like,’I think maybe he had an affinity for this. We should let him actually try to audition for some real work.’ It sorta spiraled from there and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
2. He had his breakout film role in Pitch Perfect — though he never guessed the film would be a hit
While the theater was Platt’s passion, he got his first big break on the big screen, playing the Star Wars and magic-obsessed Benji in 2012’s Pitch Perfect and again in its 2015 sequel. (He won’t be back for 2017 Pitch Perfect 3, he says, because his character’s a capella group the Treblemakers aren’t in it.)
“The experience was incredibly rewarding and opened an insane amount of doors,” he says. “The first film felt like this little theater camp. We all were making this small funny quirky little movie that we all believed in so much and thought it was really new and weird and just really funny. And we had no idea it would be embraced to such a beautiful extent and such a cultural extent.”
3. He made his Broadway debut in The Book of Mormon
Platt was 19 when he made his Broadway debut in the Book of Mormon — stepping into the role of goofy misfit Elder Cunningham in 2014.
“It was really incredible,” he gushes. “I was a fanboy of Book of Mormon in high school like everybody else. I used to listen to the songs on my car on the way to school. I just worshiped that show — when I went to see it, it was one of the funniest shows I’d ever seen in my entire life.”
“To get to have my debut on Broadway be something that I felt some kind of ownership of was like, an embarrassment of riches,” he adds. “It was really amazing.”
4. He geeked out over Meryl Streep in Ricki and the Flash
In 2015, Platt made a cameo in the Meryl Streep-led Ricki and the Flash as a groupie of Streep’s rock n’ roll singer. It was an easy role to play, because Platt himself is obsessed with the Oscar-winning actress.
“Shooting the scene with Meryl was one of the craziest days of my professional life,” he said. “Because it’s Meryl Streep and you don’t have to do anything at all because she’s incredible, but you want to do absolutely everything because she’s so incredible.”
“I learned a lot in that one week of shooting scenes with her — more than I have in my life with film,” he adds. “[Film’s] something I don’t have as much of a deep understanding of as I do musical theater, and I would love to continue to try to understand.”
5. He doesn’t have nearly as much anxiety as his Dear Evan Hansen character does
Dear Evan Hansen tells the story of an anxiety-plagued teen (Platt), paralyzed by the hyper-connectivity of social media and forced to watch the world from the outside looking in. Trying to improve his self-image, Evan writes himself a letter that is mistaken for a classmate’s suicide note — and rides that error to popularity. (The story is loosely based on an experience Pasek witnessed in high school, but book writer Steven Levinson has transformed it into a profound tale.)
It’s ironic, since Evan couldn’t be farther from Platt’s own thoughtful, well-spoken personality.
“I had a really fortunate and wonderful upbringing,” he recalls. “Still, part of me was always in my own mind. [It’s] something that’s followed me into my adult life — this struggle to feel present and stop wondering about perception or what other people are thinking. That’s something everybody can relate to.”
Dear Evan Hansen is now playing at New York’s Music Box Theatre.