Broadway Review: ‘Be More Chill’ – Variety

Broadway Review: ‘Be More Chill’ – Variety

Teens loved its viral soundtrack and video game stylings during last summer’s Off Broadway run, but will mainstream Broadway audiences thrill to this chill?

Be More Chill” is already a Broadway Cinderella story.

A tale of nerdy teen angst and technology by songwriter Joe Iconis and bookwriter Joe Tracz, this geek-love, sci-fi, high school musical bombed during its initial 2015 run at Two River Theater in New Jersey. Rather than go away, however, it became an internet sensation when its electro-pop soundtrack miraculously hit 200 million-plus streams, wound up a fan-art favorite on Tumblr, attracted commercial producers and sold out last summer’s Off Broadway run with a predominantly tween crowd that camped out post-show for mere glimpses of the cast.

That same energetic cast is on board for this fresh Broadway run of “Be More Chill.” The musical’s storyline is driven by the friendship of dweebs Jeremy (Will Roland) and Michael (George Salazar), and the lengths that Jeremy will go to eschew loserhood and finally get the girl, Christine (Stephanie Hsu).

That Jeremy’s transition involves a dangerous mega-computer-in-a-pill called a Squip, personified by a megalomaniacal, Keanu Reeves-like presence (Jason Tam), is what drives “Be More Chill,” comically and even thrillingly at times. There is a breathless quality to everything that squeaky (but belting) baritone Roland does in his attempt to break free and be cool.

And those thrills aren’t just for kids. Traditional theatergoing audiences that tend to be older than the teens and twentysomethings that packed the Off Broadway run will find delicious favor in Iconis’ contagious melodies and tricky lyrics.

In many ways, the icy bounce of “Be More Chill” and the silly videogame drama of “Two-Player Game” will remind anyone who came of age in the 1980s of New Wave hits from “Rock Lobster” to “Cars.” The ‘c-c-c-come on’ refrain of the fast-paced “More Than Survive” could have come from the British Invasion of the 1960s or the Ramones’ invasion of C.B.G.B’s in the 1970s. Cast members’ Katlyn Carlson, Tiffany Mann and Lauren Marcus’ raucous “The Smartphone Hour (Rich Set a Fire)” is a direct, gossipy tribute to stage composer Charles Strause’s “The Telephone Hour” from 1960’s “Bye Bye Birdie.”

Then there’s the universal story behind “Be More Chill,” which involves unrequited love, the fight for the fair damsel, concerned loved ones, and a mind-controlling bad guy — although there may be more mentions of Mountain Dew, eBay and premature Eminem obituaries than in the average musical to hit Broadway. Plus, with its willingness to jokingly promote drugs and promiscuity, this is hardly a children’s musical.

In the move from Off Broadway, several Act I entrances — from the musical’s first Squip abuser, Rich (Gerard Canonico), and from Jason’s father, Mr. Heere (Jason SweetTooth Williams, playing several roles) — have been trimmed. Some bits and pieces of the relationship between Jeremy and Michael also seem to have been reduced or tamped down from the Off Broadway version.

Thanks to those changes, the Broadway “Be More Chill” feels more even and flows more smoothly than it did Off Broadway. On occasion you missed the frenetic, awkward pace of the original: the Off Broadway “Be More Chill” felt gawky, quick and weird, like its subject matter. The new “Be More Chill,” on the other hand, seems to want to grow up faster and get to the point more sharply. Still, rushed or relaxed, “Be More Chill” is Broadway’s wiliest and socially savviest night out for teens and parents alike.


  • Be More Chill review

    “Be More Chill” is already a Broadway Cinderella story. A tale of nerdy teen angst and technology by songwriter Joe Iconis and bookwriter Joe Tracz, this geek-love, sci-fi, high school musical bombed during its initial 2015 run at Two River Theater in New Jersey. Rather than go away, however, it became an internet sensation when […]


  • 'Russian Doll' Star Elizabeth Ashley on

    The force of nature born Elizabeth Ann Cole, and rechristened Elizabeth Ashley for stage and screen of the late 1950s, first drew the attention of critics and fans with her work in New York theater, garnering an early-career Tony Award for her portrayal of Mollie in the Broadway production of “Take Her, She’s Mine” in […]


  • Fleabag review play

    Watching Phoebe Waller-Bridge, as the lead character of “Fleabag,” trying to resist saying something bitingly perceptive, inappropriately funny and completely unexpected is a study of comic expansiveness. And when she can’t contain herself a second longer, she lets loose with a zinger that spares no one — not even, and perhaps especially, herself. “Is that […]


  • Kelli O'Hara photographed by Amanda Jones

    The last time Kelli O’Hara appeared on Broadway, she won a Tony for her performance as Anna in “The King and I.” Four years later, she’s back in an updated “Kiss Me Kate,” opening March 14 at Studio 54. The musical is about an actress feuding with her co-star, who’s also her director and ex-husband […]


  • Daddy review play

    Possible spoiler:  The kid ain’t worth it! Some breathtaking design work has gone into the sleek production of Jeremy O. Harris’ “Daddy,” directed by Danya Taymor (“Pass Over”), who’s done stage work for Steppenwolf, Lincoln Center, and the Goodman. Set designer Matt Saunders contributes a sleek visual lookalike of David Hockney’s 1971 “Portrait of an […]


  • Eva Price Oklahoma Alanis Morissette

    Producer Eva Price has been working on Broadway for years now — but this year, she’s really making her mark, first as the lead producer of this spring’s edgy new revival of “Oklahoma!,” and then in the fall when she helps to bring in the buzzy new Alanis Morissette musical “Jagged Little Pill.” Listen to […]


  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    The 9/11-related musical “Come From Away” and a revamped version of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” lead London’s Olivier Award nominations, which were announced Tuesday. The two musicals garnered nine nods apiece. “The Inheritance,” by American playwright Matthew Lopez, received eight nominations. The two-part gay-themed work runs about seven hours and is loosely patterned after E.M. Forster’s […]

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.