Dear Evan Hansen and Heathers move over, there’s a new high-school-centered musical in town, and it has a wild and unique plot that “you could kinda be into.”
When Be More Chill premiered at the Lyceum Theatre, it wowed audiences with its modern story, tremendous acting and vocals, and killer set/lighting design. On July 31, just a little over a week before the show’s closing, the audience was covered head to toe in the show’s merchandise, and they were roaring with applause for each and every character.
Adapted by Joe Iconis with the songs and Joe Tracz with the book from Ned Vizzini’s novel of the same name, Be More Chill follows high school junior Jeremy Heere, a social outcast who plays video games with his best friend and pines over a girl he’s too scared to interact with. When he learns about the squip, the supercomputer made in Japan that is meant to instruct social outcasts on how to be cool, he buys his own squip. However, taking the squip’s instructions may not be the answer Jeremy was looking for.
When the regional production of the show closed in 2015, the show had no attention. Then, after a cast recording of the album went viral, it generated a massive audience. Since then, the album has been streamed over 150 million times and generated a Tumblr following only second to Hamilton. Driven by its unlikely success, the show opened off-Broadway in the summer of 2018 and then moved to Broadway on March 10, 2019.
The storyline is similar to that of its high school outcast types that came before, where there’s one character who is trying to be cool or pining over a girl. However, the music is a lot more exciting and modernized than the somber tones from Dear Evan Hansen or the deadly ’80s style rock from Heathers. Be More Chill follows a tech-savvy, rock and pop style combination that hits its younger target audience right in the heart.
In a cast full of no weak links, it’s hard to choose the most notable performances, but Will Roland, George Salazar and Jason Tam are entirely worth every bit of praise they receive. Roland takes the lead as Jeremy, with the sweetest voice and demeanor that perfectly epitomize a stereotypical high school nerd. His best friend Michael is portrayed by Salazar, who packs a heavy emotional punch with his heartbreaking rendition of “Michael in the Bathroom,” one of the show’s most famous songs. Tam embodies the human form of the squip, the supercomputer pill that Jeremy takes to make himself more cool. Tam’s performance is extremely slick and cool, providing an ironic hilariousness to the character.
The original Broadway cast is extremely similar to the first recorded off-Broadway cast, returning with Salazar as Michael, Stephanie Hsu as Christine Canigula, Katlyn Carlson as Chloe Valentine, Lauren Marcus as Brooke Lohst and Gerard Canonico as Rich Goranski.
Though the acting is stellar, choreography, lighting, projections and the set take the cake. Choreographed by Chase Brock, the musical features a lot of fun, teen choreography while also incorporating the robotic nature of the squip’s dancing.
The set, lighting and projection, designed by Beowulf Boritt, Tyler Micoleau and Alex Basco Koch, bring together a bright and neon set with fluorescent lighting. It basically looks like the inside of the squip, which is an interesting way to view it.
It’s clear Be More Chill is targeted at a younger audience, and aimed specifically at social outcasts for the relatability factor. Quite frankly, the show achieves this, and has become somewhat of a movement among younger people. Almost every seat in the audience was occupied by a teenager, and half of the teenagers were wearing the show’s merchandise as if it were a concert or a sporting event. Be More Chill, like its high school predecessors, has inspired and brought teens together through a mutual love of the show. Call it what you will, but it’s inspiring and beautiful to see so many young people dedicated to loving one show this much, and musical theater in general.
Be More Chill had its final performance on Aug. 11, and while audiences were sad to see it go, the musical may see a movie adaptation in the future. The sci-fi, viral Broadway hit will always be a favorite to its younger audience, and a simple, yet enjoyable musical to the mature audiences who saw it as well.