Sometimes a musical comes along that attracts such a fan following, nothing will stop it becoming a massive success. When Be More Chill first ran in New Jersey, it wasn’t expected to go any further, that is until the cast recording was released, and achieved so many downloads an Off-Broadway production was quickly mounted, leading to a Broadway transfer in 2018.
Based on the novel by Ned Vizzini, it’s not difficult to understand why Joe Iconis’ intoxicating score has attracted such a cult following, and will continue to do so now it has arrived at London’s The Other Palace, directed by Stephen Brackett.
Be More Chill is undoubtedly a musical aimed at, and speaks directly to, a younger demographic. The characters are high school seniors facing the all too common pressures of trying to fit in, be noticed and carve out their own path. Jeremy, and best friend Michael, are the geeks and outcasts who no one pays attention to, and while Michael accepts this, Jeremy desperately wants to climb the social ladder and find the courage to ask Christine to go out with him.
Jeremy discovers a S.Q.U.I.P. (Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor), a grey oblong pill – it’s from Japan – which delivers a supercomputer directly in to the brain and helps you to achieve whatever you want. Of course, taking such a pill has consequences and Jeremy finds himself having to make difficult choices. It’s a weird and wacky storyline, but Joe Tracz’s book makes it feel bizarrely sensible, and if you choose to look beyond the science fiction, you’ll find a very intelligent and heart-warming story.
This very definition of a modern musical sees a set comprised of a large electronic screen, the initial graphics which represent homes and the school hallways are reminiscent of a game boy, later becoming more advanced to create the warped inside of Jeremy’s mental state.
This is a small but hard-working cast, and each and very one of them excels in their role. Scott Folan’s Jeremy is the perfect portrayal of teenage angst, his hunched frame indicating the characters vulnerability and anxiety, while at the same time belting out those unbelievably complex songs. Folan works well with the personification of his S.Q.U.I.P. – in this case Keanu Reeves, played with wonderful richness by Stewart Clarke.
As Michael Mell, this could become a career defining performance for Blake Patrick Anderson. As he delivers the now iconic ‘Michael in the Bathroom’ the audience are gripped, pulled head first in to the characters torment at losing his best friend to a Japanese drug. Miracle Chance is the kooky but delightful Christine, and she succeeds in lighting up the stage with a remarkable presence.
It is that score filled with sensational earworms that really draw the audience in, upbeat dance numbers beside tender ballads gives Be More Chill a depth and awareness of its own purpose. Chase Brocks choreography is lively and vibrant, and in scenes like ‘Two Player Game’ we see a synchronicity that embodies the heart of this musicals message.
At its core, Be More Chill is a profoundly meaningful commentary on youth culture, but perhaps more importantly, is incredibly good fun, with just enough comedy elements not to distract from a superb score and capable cast. You don’t have to be gen Z to enjoy this musical, its subtle but vital message can resonate with us all. With its fandom ever growing, like Jeremy, this ground-breaking musical may find itself needing its own upgrade, to a larger more permanent West End home.