“Be More Chill” Upgrades

Angela Tricarico , Contributing Writer

Be More Chill, a musical with music and lyrics by Joe Iconis and a book by Joe Tracz, is transferring to Broadway with opening night set for March 10, 2019 at the Lyceum Theater.

The musical is a coming-of-age story with a sci-fi twist, based on the 2004 young-adult novel of the same name by Ned Vizzini. It follows Jeremy Heere, a nerdy high school student, who signs up for the school play to get closer to the girl he has a crush on, Christine Canigula. Rich Goranski, one of Jeremy’s bullies, tells him about his SQUIP—super quantum unit intel processor. It’s nanotechnology; a pill one swallows that implants itself into the brain and takes over. It’s supposed to make Jeremy more “chill,” and increase his chances of getting with Christine, so he swallows it and “upgrades.”

The musical started as part of Red Bank, New Jersey’s Two River Theater new play development program, and premiered at the 350-seat theater in June 2015.

Iconis, a prominent name in contemporary musical theater, had previously drawn recognition from the theater community when his song “Broadway, Here I Come” became a recurring piece on season two of NBC’s Smash. When the musical premiered, there was enough buzz that Two River commissioned a cast recording to preserve it, but the momentum for the show ended there.

Fast forward to 2017, and Be More Chill is no longer a regional theater’s best kept secret, and it’s all thanks to social media. It wasn’t unlike the act two number “The Smartphone Hour (Rich Set A Fire)” where one phone call about the end of the Halloween party from the night before turns into another, and before they know it, everyone knows.

It’s as if it happened overnight, but it’s no coincidence that the sudden rise happened as a second musical with a book by Tracz, based on Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief, was premiering off-Broadway. The Lightning Thief also starred George Salazar, who played Michael Mell in the Two River production of Be More Chill. A video of Salazar recording the act two solo “Michael in the Bathroom” had suddenly gotten over a million views on Youtube.

In 2017, Tumblr reported that Be More Chill was the second-most posted about musical all year, only behind the juggernaut Hamilton. Fans who had never even seen the show were drawing fan art and writing fanfiction about the characters, and it was clear that Be More Chill was resonating with people.

Producers took advantage of the sudden spike in interest, announcing that the show would receive an off-Broadway production, which opened at the 294-seat Diamond Stage at the Pershing Square Signature Center on Aug. 9, and is still running now through Sept. 30. A number of the original cast members returned to the show, including Salazar, and new additions included Will Roland, who starred in another viral sensation musical, Dear Evan Hansen, as Jeremy, and Broadway veteran Jason Tam as the SQUIP.

On Sept. 5, producers announced that Be More Chill would finally open on Broadway, at the 950-seat Lyceum, extending it’s life once again and providing even more audience members a chance to experience the show.

The secret behind Be More Chill’s success, beyond the fun music, is how realistically it portrays the high school experience, if you ignore the sci-fi. What Jeremy’s SQUIP  initially asks him to repeat is horrible—“Everything about you is so terrible” “Everything about me is just terrible”—and for some people, that’s all too real. The SQUIP is the voice of insecurity personified. Character-wise, we all know a Jenna Rolan, the school gossip, a Jeremy, desperately grasping for something out of his reach, or maybe we were someone like Michael, left behind when someone we cared deeply about found bigger and better things to do.

Amanda Cohen, a junior theater major, says that her favorite line from the show is an early instruction from the SQUIP to Jeremy: “Don’t smile. Stare intensely. Speak like you don’t care about your own death.”

“I just find it heartbreaking and ache inside when I hear it,” she said.

As young people, we don’t get to see our stories told on stage often; that’s usually reserved for the much darker stories of people much older than we are, but Be More Chill is a breath of fresh air. The lyrics and dialogue in between are both clever and funny, but will also hit audiences with a dose of the realities of high school.