Review of Be More Chill on Broadway

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    March 11, 2019
    Review by:

    Be More Chill couldn’t be hotter. The musical theater sensation went from being a flop in a little theater in Red Bank, NJ in 2015, to a viral internet sensation in 2017, that has over 170 million streams of its cast album today, and, finally, a Broadway run that opened March 10, 2019 at the Lyceum Theatre. This is not the usual route for a Broadway musical. But Be More Chill, a story about nerdy high school student Jeremy Heere (Will Roland) who swallows a pill with a Japanese supercomputer inside that promises to make him cool, seems to have struck a chord with teenagers around the globe. They have not only been streaming the soundtrack by the millions, but a whole cottage industry of Be More Chill art, animated videos of the soundtrack and cover versions of the song can be found online.

    Although the music is relentlessly upbeat and the lyrics witty, Be More Chill is really a strung-together collection of the usual teen-angst tropes. Nerdy Jeremy and his sidekick Michael (George Salazar) are the two lowest dweebs on the social totem pole. Jeremy gets seduced by his grunged-out school tormentor Rich (Gerard Canonico) into taking a pill that has a supercomputer inside that will tell him what to say and do and turn him into one of the cool kids. Fueled by a crush on his highly effervescent and dramatic classmate, Christine (Stephanie Hsu), Jeremy decides to ingest the pill called a “Squip,” against the misgivings of his friend Michael. And though The Squip (Jason Tam) appears in Jeremy’s mind as a cool Matrix-like Keanu Reeves look-alike, the anthropomorphized computer becomes more interested in world domination than Jeremy’s success, or lack thereof, with Christine.

    To be sure, much of the original viral appeal comes from the song “Michael In The Bathroom” sung on the original cast album by the uber-talented George Salazar, who reprises his role in the Broadway production. It’s essentially a heart-breaking, self-flagellating monologue set to music of Michael berating himself for hiding in the bathroom at a party because he isn’t confident enough to be there. Delivered by Salazar in a tour-de-force turn, it’s sure to strike a responsive note with audiences of all ages due to Mr. Salazar’s nuanced and emotional performance. 

    Because Be More Chill is so appealing to a youth demographic that traditionally doesn’t attend Broadway in the kind of numbers that took an interest in it online, there has been a lot of excited buzz and speculation about this production. We’ll see. Perhaps if the main character of Jeremy was a little more interesting than a whiny kid who can’t see beyond his own misery, the show might attract more sophisticated viewers as well as the middle and high school crowd. But as long as its target audience is willing to travel on trains, planes and automobiles as they have been doing, and their parents are willing to pay for the tickets, I’m sure Be More Chill is going to be around for a good long while.

    (Photo by Maria Baranova)

    "Now, after selling out its limited run Off Broadway last summer, the rabidly eager Be More Chill... has joined the crowded field of shows about hormonally-overcharged outsiders longing for acceptance. While its characters, inevitably, learn that being popular isn’t everything, the show’s investors would no doubt beg to differ. For one thing, it is — by cold critical standards — the worst of the lot, with a repetitive score, painfully forced rhymes, cartoonish acting and a general approach that mistakes decibel level (literally and metaphorically) for emotional intensity. But this ostensible amateurishness may be exactly what sells Be More Chill to its young target audience."
    Ben Brantley for New York Times

    "However much you root for it, Be More Chill ultimately seems like a talented, likable team that is playing in the wrong league, and the Lyceum looms around it like a judgment. Directed in broad strokes by Stephen Brackett, the show doesn’t take itself seriously enough; many of the jokes are underbaked, and by the time it reaches its wacky, hectic finale, it has thrown internal logic out the window."
    Adam Feldman for Time Out New York

    "It features some fun, upbeat numbers, including the title tune and "Upgrade," while another, "Michael in the Bathroom," is a terrific showcase for Salazar, who gets a huge ovation when he first walks onstage, signifying how familiar many audience members already are with the show."
    Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter

    "Traditional theatergoing audiences that tend to be older than the teens and twentysomethings that packed the Off-Broadway run will find delicious favor in Iconis’ contagious melodies and tricky lyrics."
    A. D. Amorosi for Variety