Review Roundup: The Critics Weigh In on BE MORE CHILL Off-Broadway
The highly anticipated musical Be More Chill celebrates its official off-Broadway opening night tonight! The production runs through September 23 at The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street, NYC).
Based on the cult sensation novel by Ned Vizzini, Be More Chill is the story of Jeremy Heere, your average, nothing-special teenager at Middleborough High in nothing-special New Jersey. That is, until the day he finds out about "The Squip." Thus begins a journey that pits Jeremy's desire to be popular against his struggle to remain true to his authentic self. Be More Chill is an honest, edgy, super-hilarious look at coming of age in the digital age, set to some of the most exciting songs in contemporary musical theater.
This original musical comedy looks at modern issues like depression, bullying, and anxiety through the lens of sci-fi films of the 50s, horror flicks of the 80s, and teen movies of the 90s. Little Shop of Horrors meets The Breakfast Club in this celebration of outcasts, teenaged or otherwise.
Let's see what the critics had to say!
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Personally, I was happiest when the plot careened off the rails into sci-fi apocalypse territory, which happens during the school's politically corrected version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." That was a hoot. The rest of the show is more of a sustained holler, and being receptive to its charms surely requires a much younger set of ears than mine. It may be helpful to think of this bounding, exhaustingly enthusiastic puppy of a show as the theatrical equivalent of one of those high-pitched dog whistles that only those under 25 can hear.
Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal: "Be More Chill" is a delight, a tale of social anxiety whose pop-rock score, written by Joe Iconis, is unfailingly lively and fresh. Stephen Brackett and Chase Brock, the director and choreographer, keep the pace brisk, and the cast, Stephanie Hsu in particular, is engaging without limit. Yes, Joe Tracz's book is deliberately pitched to an under-35 audience, but you don't have to be a millennial to get the jokes, much less to revel in the sparky charms of "Be More Chill." See it now if you can wangle a ticket, because it's going to hit big-and deservedly so-when it makes its inevitable move to Broadway.
Matt Windman, amNY: "Dear Evan Hansen" meets "Little Shop of Horrors" in "Be More Chill," a smart and crowd-pleasing new musical comedy containing superb pop-rock show tunes by Joe Iconis and crafted with familiar elements of high school teen comedy, sci-fi movies, social media and tristate suburbia.
A.D. Amorosi, Variety: Director Stephen Brackett and Tony-winning set designer Beowulf Boritt ("Come From Away") make the action swift, and the glossy, 80s-like setting sleek and techy without New Wave kitsch. No theater piece has made tech-nerdiness look or sound as modern and warm.
Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter: Exuberantly performed by its talented ensemble, the musical is definitely not for everyone. The material is frequently less than sophisticated and sometimes becomes vulgar, and the music's deafening volume will prove an affront to older ears. But the evening ultimately proves so winning that it's hard to entirely resist. If you can't find something to enjoy about it, it might be that you simply need to be more chill.
David Cote, Observer: It's a hard-working cast executing a lot of strenuous choreography (by Chase Brock) and singing their hearts out. But there are still tonal issues with the direction and songs, which tend to err on the side of cartoonish mania and goofy laughs at the expense of pathos or (heaven forbid) nuanced emotions. This is, after all, a show that begins with our hero unsuccessfully masturbating. Relatable, but not an auspicious introduction.
Jake Nevkins, The Guardian: Joe Iconis is the man behind the show's witty, resonant, and often lacerating lyrics, set to maximalist, pop-rocky compositions that, at times, threaten to overwhelm both the actors and the story. Should the show make it to Broadway - where it seems, on the shoulders of its viral fanbase, to be headed - it could stand to cut a good deal of fat; some of book writer Joe Tracz's punchlines were met with crickets, and the second act often gets in its own way, following whims that are ill-advised if not entirely random. But when the train seems about to derail, as it did a couple of times in the show's last hour, Be More Chill is salvaged by its hearty, charismatic performances, particularly those of Roland, Salazar, and Stephanie Hsu, who plays the Streisand-worshipping theatre nerd Christine.
David Cote, Observer: To give full credit, director Stephen Brackett's multi-ethnic cast and the message of self-acceptance are both welcome and healthy elements. And despite the fact that watered-down pop and rock have become ubiquitous show tune idioms, Iconis can crank out an effective number. Christine's dreamy-sweet "I Love Play Rehearsal" is a paean to the pleasures of pretend and escape. Jeremy's empowerment anthem "Loser Geek Whatever" honestly addresses the frustration beta kids feel in the teenage rat race. Best of all, the breakdown ballad "Michael in the Bathroom" gives the passionate Salazar a chance to shine. A fine example of the musical number as mini-drama, the song encapsulates the anguished defiance of a person abandoned by at a party, hiding out from public embarrassment.
Naveen Kumar, Towleroad: Fitting then, that it begins with one grousing in song that his porn won't load so he can beat off before school. It's funny, sure, and perfectly natural (no shame!). It's also our first sign that the musical, with score by Joe Iconis and book by Joe Tracz, considers frustrated male desire its primary problem in need of solving. Not by teaching its protagonist that he's not entitled to the woman he wants, or that he should simply be himself and love will find a way, but by tempting him with a pill that helps him say all the rights things to score.