A New York Theatre Guide to... Be More Chill!
Here's all you need to know about Broadway's 'coming-of-age in the digital age' new musical...
Calling all Losers, Geeks and Whatevers! There’s a new Broadway production making waves, trending and exploding in hashtags at the Lyceum Theatre by the name of Be More Chill! Based on the popular 2004 novel by Ned Vizzini, this musical adaptation, which features an original score by Joe Iconis and a book by Joe Tracz, made it all the way to the Great White Way thanks to a young, dedicated fan base who poured out their love on social media for the cast recording following the show’s world premiere at the Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey in 2015. Soon it evolved into an online sensation and, following an Off-Broadway premiere at Pershing Square Signature Center in the summer of 2018, Broadway previews began on February 13, 2019, ahead of an official opening on March 10. Get ready to Sync Up, folks!
What’s it all about?
Be More Chill might well be described as the lovechild of The Little Shop of Horrors and the latest Nintendo games console. It follows teenager Jeremy Heere, who finds himself on the bottom rung of the social ladder at Middleborough High in New Jersey. He only has one true friend in stoner/gamer pal Michael and one true love in Christine, who devotes all her focus to the school’s theatre productions… But how to get her to notice him? Seemingly doomed to a High School life as a social outcast, Jeremy’s fortunes take a turn after discovering ‘The Squip’ (or super quantum unit intel processor), a not-entirely-legal piece of Japanese high-tech which the consumer swallows in pill form. It contains a computer which implants itself inside the user’s brain, analyzes human behavior and social situations and tells the user what to do and/or say. The result is a fast ticket to popularity and a much-coveted ‘one of the cool kids’ status. But will Jeremy have to sacrifice his own authenticity and morals on his teenage quest? And what are the consequences when machine overpowers man and begins its own quest for world domination?
Who’s starring in it?
The cast of Be More Chill probably boasts the youngest average age in the whole of the Broadway theatre scene. These young performers are shooting stars of energy and talent and are led in the original Broadway company by Dear Evan Hansen star Will Roland as Jeremy. Other standout performers in the original Broadway cast include George Salazar as Michael, Stephanie Hsu as Christine, Tiffany Mann as Jenna, and Jason Tam as The Squip, to name just a few. Many of the cast perform multiple roles, including Jason SweetTooth Williams, who plays just about every adult principal role in the musical himself.
What’s special about this production?
Be More Chill is both a loving homage to and a frank warning against the digital age. As such, the production is a multimedia-infused assault on the senses. Kudos to Beowulf Boritt for his scenic design and Alex Basco Koch for his projections that blend together seamlessly, often evoking the sense that we’ve suddenly slipped into the cyber-world of “Tron”. And hats off to lighting designer Tyler Micoleau and sound designer Ryan Rumery for enhancing this pulsating, adrenaline-fueled feast for the eyes and ears. Just as The Rocky Horror Show and The Little Shop of Horrors took cult to a whole new level for their respective audiences, Be More Chill takes aim in the same vein and hits the bullseye for younger theatregoers. Certainly, Joe Iconis’ playful yet relentless score (which includes the viral sensation “Michael in the Bathroom”) keeps the teen-pop (with a hint of teen-angst) vibe alive. And as the themes of social acceptance, bullying and anxiety become more and more openly discussed amongst our young people of today, this musical will continue to strike a chord.
Who would we recommend it to?
It’s no secret that Be More Chill’s core demographic is the middle and high school crowd and it’s equally satisfying for any gender, regardless of the fact that the central character is male. Parents – this is the perfect Broadway treat for your youngsters!... But if you are a little longer in the tooth and wanna be down with the kids (or you’re simply fascinated by this bewildering digital age), then why not obey the voices in your head and find out what all the fuss is about?
Be More Chill Tickets are available now.
(Photos by Maria Baranova)