Be More Chill Moves to Broadway
The story behind Be More Chill, the newly transferred off-Broadway musical that just opened on the Great White Way, is pretty fascinating. Prompted by a song from the show that garnered an incredible mass following, this is not the way most Broadway shows begin. This written-for-the high school-set musical received a world premiere at Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey in 2015. A cast album was recorded, and the show closed.
Cut to the kids who found the album and videos online and in short order, the Be More Chill cast album had a tremendous cult following, convincing producers to mount an off-Broadway production. The show ran last summer to sold out audiences, more money was raised and voila, it’s now on Broadway.
Like any book that has a weird, geeky, un-popular main character whose only desire is to be liked, accepted and date his crush, the audience is instantly on the side of Jeremy. He is desperate to be viewed differently, and sings about it valiantly… and often.
At his high school, a former geek turned bully accosts his prey, and boasts to Jeremy that he can sell him a pill that will transform him into a cool, confident and popular guy and get the girl, the adorable Christine, played by the also adorable Stephanie Hsu.
Jeremy finds a way to get this pill from Japan, which is called a SQUIP (“Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor), and the transformation begins.
A SQUIP is described as a tiny mini-computer in the form of a pill that connects with the brain and comes along with a personal avatar (the super talented Jason Tam) that coaches him along the way. Jeremy’s best friend, Michael (George Salazar), who has no interest in taking a SQUIP, is the voice of reason, and gets to sing the song that prompted the popularity of the show, “Michael in the Bathroom.” It’s a catchy song for sure with lyrics that we can all relate to, and with over 3.3 million views on YouTube(!), George delivers it live perfectly. (I actually can’t get it out of my head at the moment.)
A series of circumstances occur, including love interests hooking up, a Halloween party with wacky costumes, and a house fire. SQUIPS, it turns out are dangerous, and require some fancy foot work to be rid of. Of course, the show ends with Jeremy being a hero, saving his friends, getting the girl and being popular all on his own.
Like I said, we just love those outsider-turned-insider happy endings.
The music and lyrics are by Joe Iconis and the book is written by Joe Tracz. Be More Chill is directed by Stephen Brackett with choreography by Chase Brock. There are some outstanding songs (some super clever and others..not so much), and the story does grow on you. It picks up much more in the second act, when you finally settle in to the understanding that this is a teenage angst and science fiction musical utilizing technology, rolled into one.
Okay, I’ll go with that.
The voices are pretty amazing in this show, and I was happy to see Will Roland really nail the starring role of Jeremy. (Will played the best friend of Evan Hansen in Dear Evan Hansen and was a great supporting actor, so it is nice to see him as the star.) Tiffany Mann, who plays Jenna Rolan in a secondary role, is a standout in this show and one to watch.
Some people mentioned that the volume of the music in Be More Chill is super loud. That didn’t bother me so much. But what I think the show would benefit from is a good ten minute cut.
Be More Chill was a true sensation off-Broadway, but ticket prices are much higher in the Broadway universe. Judging from the enthusiastic audience though, there is a good chance Be More Chill will be around for a while.
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The 3/15/19 show features Cheryl Benton (aka the “head tomato” talking about martinis and “Martini Wisdom” a fun book she co-created with her daughter Roni Jenkins.