While Juliet sleeps (the show returns in September), the colourful teen musical Be More Chill by Joe Iconis (music/lyrics) and Joe Tracz (book) returns more than 500 days after early closure at The Other Palace in March 2020.
Jeremy (Scott Folan, who was superb in the play Mother of Him over at the Park Theatre, and equally good here) is a geek whose father (Christopher Fry, who does double duty as the zombie-obsessed teacher) is depressed after his wife left him. Nervous, dorky, and bespectacled, Jeremy is shorthand for ‘loser’ in the eyes of his school peers.
When he isn’t getting his porn fix or playing video games with equally geeky Michael (Blake Patrick Anderson in his West End debut, with a knock-out solo number in Act Two), Jeremy is pining over Christine (a wildly over the top Miracle Chance). Schools can be cruel places if you’re not part of the gang, and all these teens have their own flaws.
For Jeremy, it’s hard. No girls look at him, and boys despise him. A revelation in the school bathroom changes his outlook, and a trip to the local shoe store turns his life and image in a new direction. Not just to become more cool – but more ‘chill’. That’s where “The Squip” (Stewart Clarke) comes in (“it’s from Japan/it’s a little yellow pill”), a supercomputer which promises to tell you what to do to become the better you. He’s insufferable, and has a diabolical plan.
Be More Chill has the basic mantra of ‘be yourself’ and is ultimately body-, gender- and sexuality-positive. The cast (including James Hameed as Rich, Renée Lamb as Jenna, Millie O’Connell as Chloe, Miles Paloma as Jake and Eloise Davies as Brooke) are made up of a diverse group of young and talented performers.
This show, with its flashing colours, digital projections, and popping electronic-led score, is a modern musical aimed at millennials. It is very American: no concessions of brand names have been made for a British audience. It is also very much of the strip cartoon/sitcom style in places. Subtlety is not really something Be More Chill has much time for.
The source of the musical is a YA novel by Noel Vizzini, and while it has been developed into a fairly strong book, some characters remain underwritten and underused (Jenna and Jake come to mind). Directed by Stephen Brackett with music supervision and orchestrations by Charlie Rosen, there is an emphasis on fun from the start of the show. It doesn’t dig deeper in the way that Dear Evan Hansen does with the same age group.
A couple of things also jarred with me around the depiction of Brooke, Chloe, and Christine, and about equivalence of artistic pursuits with ‘being called gay’. These are perhaps redeemed by the end but these moments feel awkward and unrealistic – perhaps as anachronistic as the retro drinks depicted.
The choreography by Chase Brock is high energy with movement direction throughout particularly impressive. Whether the company are in full dance mode, the geeks are playing a video game, or Jeremy is full of nerves in front of his beloved, every action is carefully planned and executed.
With a Faustian pact at its heart – improving yourself artificially always comes at a cost – and a light touch, Be More Chill is not always 100% successful, but what works is slick and performed with gusto.
Be More Chill is running at the Shaftesbury Theatre until 5 September: book your tickets here.
Image credit: Be More Chill Musical
LouReviews received complimentary tickets to review Be More Chill.