By: Isa Goldberg
April 4, 2019: If “A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a post-apocalyptic future, fleeing from zombies” doesn’t sound like your idea of a great show, Be More Chill, may feel challenging at first.
Powered by its social media fanship, the show, which premiered at Two River Theater in Red Bank, NJ a few years ago, has opened at Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre. Still, it’s a musical packed with spoiler alerts, the most salient of which is about the hazards of taking drugs. If this sounds like proselytizing that is because it’s meant to be, and it’s done it in a really fun, and convincing way.
Will Roland plays Jeremy Heere, the nerdy high school student who has a depressed dad (Jason Sweettooth Williams), and a dead-beat mom. She ran off with the high school prom king to live in Long Island, leaving dad to pine forever, as he sits around the house, incapable of putting on his pants. Not exactly the kind of model Jeremy needs.
Motivated by his crush on Christine, played by the highly comic and adorable Stephanie Hsu, Jeremy makes a Faustian pact with The Squip (Jason Tam). The actor playing the drug creates a disturbing anthropomorphic presence. He’s too cool for school, and he really does look like Keanu Reeves in Matrix.
Of course, Squip’s handsome looks are deceiving, and the mind-altering, mind-controlling substance stirs the pot of human behaviors. It’s mean! And the things that happen – cacophonous, off the wall, and violent.
Joe Iconis’ music speaks to teenagers with its amped up volume, and bursting with energy charm. It’s harder on our ears, but then so is this story, in which a Walpurgisnacht of drug taking leads to the fires that burn down another student’s home. That occasion is Jake’s (Britton Smith’s) Halloween party.
Still, the standout in this production is Jeremy’s best friend, Michael. In this role, George Salazar looks like an adult playing a kid, and he behaves like that as well. But he is the most heartfelt and genuine character in the show. He’s also gifted the most gorgeous solo, “Michael in the Bathroom,” an ode to teenage angst that he sings with all his soul.
There are some well thought out details here, that are beg our attention. For one, the drugs are served in an oversized baby bottle, and for another, Alex Basco Koch’s projections fuel the horror movie look of psychedelic experience.
Chase Brock’s choreography highlights the characters identities. Christine flies like Peter Pan’s sister, Michael squares himself nervously to the audience, and the Squip delivers the physical qualities of a really evil character. Maybe the very idea of talking to girls stirs this kind of outer body experience.
Most outstanding, Beowulf Boritt’s set design with the outlines of 3 concentric cell phone screens framing the proscenium, tells us where this all takes place. Where else?
That director Stephen Brackett keeps this unruly story moving to its happy ending, without losing the audience, is extraordinary.
Be More Chill ****
149 West 45th Street
New York City, NY 10036
For Tickets Click Here
Photography: Maria Baranova