Whether or not it ultimately proves to be a hit, "Be More Chill," a sublimely silly, exciting sci-fi teen musical comedy deserves a place in Broadway history as an unlikely comeback story powered by a passionate fan following on social media.
BE MORE CHILL Broadway Reviews
The Lyceum Theatre was the place to be last night as Broadway got an upgrade! The cult hit Be More Chill, featuring music and lyrics by Joe Iconis, a book by Joe Tracz , direction by Stephen Brackett and choreography by Chase Brock, officially opened on March 10, 2019.
What if popularity came in a pill? Would you take it, no questions asked? In Be More Chill, achieving that elusive "perfect life" is now possible thanks to some mysterious new technology-but it comes at a cost that's not as easy to swallow. What could possibly go wrong? Blending the contemporary with retro sci-fi, this thrillingly exciting, comically subversive, and deeply felt new musical takes on the competing voices in all of our heads. And ultimately proves, there's never been a better time in history to be yourself-especially if you're a loser...geek...or whatever.
What did the Broadway critics have to say?
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Tracz's book solidly moves the story along, with Stephen Brackett's staging nailing comic moments without sacrificing sincerity. Chase Brock's fun choreography appropriately works within the capabilities of typical suburban high school sophomores.
And here is where Be More Chill stakes its most righteous claim: For all of its storyline predictability and maybe too-happy-resolutions, Joe Tracz's book and, especially, Iconis' lyrics don't flinch from the darkness and panic of the teenage mind.
"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.
Much has been written about this heartfelt musical's unlikely road to Broadway, the tiny production in New Jersey, the album that went viral (more than 200 million downloads and counting), the Off-Broadway run that sold out before it opened. And everything's been spruced up for Broadway - the cool computer-screen set by Beowulf Boritt, the outlandish costumes by Bobby Frederick Tilley II, the slick projections by Alex Bosco Koch. As the squip sings near the end of the first act, "you gotta get an upgrade." And with this one, "Be More Chill" gets a fighting chance to stand out in a capacity crowd of musicals about kids who don't feel like they belong.
There's a cheeky, open-eyed quality to Be More Chill that knows better than to spill over into archness - because musicals aren't actually chill at all, ever. And no one sums up this mixture of sincerity and worldly mischief better than Christine, who, when things look bleakest, delivers a distressed zinger that might just qualify for best self-own of the current theatrical moment: "I look around and everyone's hurting. I wish there was something real I could do to make things better but I don't know how. So I guess I'll just do theater." How do the kids put it? I feel so seen.
Be More Chill doesn't benefit from a repeat viewing for anyone who's already gone through adolescence. Iconis' pop/rock score, augmented for its Broadway debut with an additional, inconsequential song, "Sync Up," is catchy enough. It features some fun, upbeat numbers, including the title tune and "Upgrade," while another, "Michael in the Bathroom," is a terrific showcase for Salazar, who gets a huge ovation when he first walks onstage, signifying how familiar many audience members already are with the show.
Despite that perma-frenzied tone and the musical's underwhelming book, it's not surprising that Be More Chill has taken the journey it has. Iconis' pop-rock songs are catchy and the show channels the angst and insecurities many young people experience, particularly in this social-media-driven age. I just wish there was more beneath all that neon, high-intensity surface. But then again, if you're already one of the many, many fans of Be More Chill, my opinion probably isn't going to matter anyway.
But however much you root for it, Be More Chill ultimately seems like a talented, likable team that is playing in the wrong league, and the Lyceum looms around it like a judgment. Directed in broad strokes by Stephen Brackett, the show doesn't take itself seriously enough; many of the jokes are underbaked, and by the time it reaches its wacky, hectic finale, it has thrown internal logic out the window. And the production's embrace of cartoonishness works against the sentimental effects it sometimes reaches for, especially since we have little reason to care about Jeremy one way or the other; Roland, who was terrific as the needling sidekick in Dear Evan Hansen, sings well but doesn't project the sensitivity that might help fill out his role. Be More Chill takes it for granted that we'll like Jeremy just because most of the kids at his school do not. But unpopularity, like popularity, only goes so far.
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Directed by Stephen Brackett, the production differentiates itself from the Broadway pack by being even more riotous and extreme. The imagination is gaudy, the volume deafening and the plot kinetically convoluted. Exhaustingly exaggerated, the show should consider an advisory that some material might not be suitable for adults.
Be More Chill feels squawkily split between camp sci fi romp and searing teenage-life-today commentary. The title itself is the last annoying puzzle. If anything the show suggests that we all have to live with our insecurities and other inner demons; the trick is not to let them dominate us.
For one thing, it is - by cold critical standards - the worst of the lot, with a repetitive score, painfully forced rhymes, cartoonish acting and a general approach that mistakes decibel level (literally and metaphorically) for emotional intensity. But this ostensible amateurishness may be exactly what sells "Be More Chill" to its young target audience. Alone among Broadway musicals, "Be More Chill" feels as if it could have been created by the teenagers it portrays, or perhaps by even younger people imagining what high school will be like. Though its production values have been souped up since I saw it in August, the show's current incarnation - which features the same cast and is again directed by Stephen Brackett - remains a festival of klutziness that you could imagine being put together in the bedrooms and basements of young YouTubers.
I couldn't be less chill, not after sitting through the insipid "Be More Chill" for the second time. I saw it last year off-Broadway, a perch on which it landed by virtue of the mad crush many young folk developed for a cast recording that streamed online long before a New York engagement was ever in the works. It is, in that sense, the first musical to click its way onto Broadway, where it had its official opening at the Lyceum Theatre on Sunday. And, boy, were my misgivings from my initial encounter confirmed. "Be More Shrill" would be a better title for director Stephen Brackett's heinously overamplified and overacted production, built on the story of a nerd played by the intrepid Will Roland, who takes a magic pill to become popular with the high school "in" crowd.
REVIEW: Broadway's 'Be More Chill' is an overplayed and overwrought musical about teen life in a hi-tech world
If all of its overplayed, insecure, overwrought, dial-in-the-red-zone freneticism could have been avoided, we'd actually have an interesting Broadway show that not only reveals just how terrified we all are about the encroachments of digitized technology on our human bodies - and of teenage addiction to medication - but also how difficult it is to pull off weird "Little Shop of Horrors"-style satire in this moralistic moment when every show has the same thing to teach. Be your nerdy self and let your freak flag fly! They won't love you 'till you love yourself.