Set in suburban Jersey and based on Ned Vizzini’s out-there 2004 novel, Be More Chill is about a frustrated high school junior named Jeremy (Will Roland, best-known for Dear Evan Hansen), who swallows a grey pill that’s a Japanese supercomputer called a SQUIP. It implants itself in his brain and guides him through the intricacies of teenage social protocol.
Since the show’s premiere at Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey, in 2015, the original cast recording has implanted itself in other brains. The songs have been streamed some 250 million times, generating momentum for a sold-out off-Broadway engagement late last year and the Broadway transfer that opened tonight.
Joe Iconis’ songs here are rooted in classic musical theater, with echoes of Little Shop of Horrors and Bye Bye Birdie. Yet the lyrics are of the moment. Texting, video games, computing and even online porn (in a PG sort of way) feature prominently.
As someone decades removed from high school, I found the humor broad, the POV adolescent and the music too loud. But for those with less delicate ears (or at a reasonable volume at home), there’s a lot to enjoy in the addictive and largely uptempo score. “Michael in the Bathroom,” sung by George Salazar about a social outcast hiding in the john during a party, is destined to be a cabaret standard, if it isn’t one already.
I imagine Be More Chill resonates with both young theater diehards and musical newbies who are skeptical that the art form can speak to them. And with fans of horror and Sci-Fi. It’s not for everyone, but it is a distinctive entry in the crowded market of Broadway high school musicals.
Jeremy’s efforts in Act II to disentangle himself from the Squip (Jason Tam) could be seen as a parable about the dangers of centralized control and social media. Going viral isn’t all bad. It helped the creators of Be More Chill achieve their dreams.
Editor: Alice Scovell