I had very little idea of what this show was about, except that it had a bit of a cult following after its run on (and off) Broadway. It is not hard to see why Be More Chill has got people talking. It ticks all the boxes. The concept is a strange one. It’s as if the creators decided to mix an episode of Black Mirror with High School Musical, and then sprinkle some elements of Scott Pilgrim vs The World on top. On paper it sounds like it shouldn’t work. But it really, really does. Let’s look at these ticked boxes in more detail:
Fantastic feel-good vibe
Box One: The Cast. Be More Chill consists of a cast of just ten and all but one of these are designed to be played by someone young, giving some great opportunities for recent graduates to shine. And shine they did. The star of the show is undoubtedly Scott Folan as Jeremy Heere who gives an exceptionally accomplished performance. He is barely offstage for a second and has a remarkable number of solos which he delivers with ease. Taking the character on a true journey the audience cannot help but be swept up in madness of it all. Alongside him is Blake Patrick Anderson as his best friend Michael. Blake truly steals the show from Scott in the second half with what is the absolute best number in the score, Michael in the Bathroom, and has an incredible stage presence which makes him truly stand out. A feat that is even more remarkable when you realise this is his West End debut. Definitely one to watch.
Miracle Chance, as Christine Canigiula, delivers a delightful performance as Jeremy’s love interest. The character’s quirky mannerisms are a joy to behold when delivered as naturally as Miracle can. Stewart Clarke as The Squip is fantastically evil. His presence looming larger and larger over the show as his power grows was a brilliant tour-de-force in how to take a character to extreme levels. Eloise Davies always brought a smile to our faces whenever she appeared as the lovestruck Brooke Lohst, especially when joined by her best friend/worst enemy Chloe Valentine, played by Millie O’Connell. Millie was zany and her song at the start of the second act had me laughing out loud. When the two of them joined up with Renée Lamb’s school-gossip Jenna Rolan another show-stopping number The Smartphone Hour ensued. It is testament to the writing that all three of these characters step beyond the stereotypes that we are first introduced to, and all have levels and different relationships with the main characters which develop throughout the show.
Box Two: The Characters. All characters develop and grow throughout the show so we feel not just connected to the main two or three characters but everyone, including the side characters. I have already mentioned the three girls from the school who are all given several moments in the show to perform and to develop. We also have the school bully Rich, an outstanding performance from James Hameed. In most pieces this would be a simple portrayal of a bully and left at that. But the character here keeps cropping up and we follow his journey just as much as we follow Jeremy. Even though Rich gets less stage-time than Jeremy, we know exactly his physical and emotional location. James’ performance of The Squip Song is a particular highlight for me. In a similar way we have the school jock Jake, played by Miles Paloma. Again this character is given multiple scenes to grow and change throughout the show, rather than appear as a simple caricature. We also have Christopher Fry who is given various roles to play, including the teacher Mr Reyes and Jeremy’s Dad. Both characters have moments where they get to really stand out and surprise us. This is all thanks down to the brilliant work of the creators Joe Tracz (Book) and Joe Iconis (Music and Lyrics) as well as the director Stephen Brackett, who expertly translated this to the stage. Joe Iconis deserves a special mention as he is mostly the reason the third box is also ticked.
Box Three: The Score. In modern musicals we tend to get one of two things; songs that stop the story in its tracks but are good fun and highly memorable or songs that help the story progress but are mundane and forgettable. Be More Chill accomplishes the rarer feat of having songs that tell the story, yet are all very enjoyable in their own right. Each one helps us understand a character’s motives or moves the plot along. A special mention must again go to the writers, and Blake, for the excellent Michael in the Bathroom as the absolute stand out moment of Be More Chill, but there is not a weak link anywhere in the score. I even went and played the soundtrack again when I returned from the theatre. A special shoutout should go to Louisa Green and the orchestra who get no visibility at all but whose presence could be heard throughout. There is also some great choreography, by Chase Brock, in the ensemble numbers which helps with the feel-good factor.
Box Four goes out to the rest of the creative team. The set consists of nothing more than the edges of a tablet or laptop surrounding the stage, and a massive screen at the back which displays some very clever projections. The set design is by Beowulf Borritt and it suits the show perfectly. There are a few limited props or set pieces that get brought on but it is the projections, by Alex Basco Koch, that bring the show to life. Sometimes subtle and at other times really giving the show a matrix-y feel the projections are always present, as our computer screens in our day-to-day lives. The sound design (Ryan Rumery), lighting design (Tyler Micoleau) and costume design (Bobby Frederick Tilley II), particularly whenever the squip was on stage, are also fantastic.
The fifth and final box is for the audience journey. I remember saying to my friend in the interval that I could pretty much predict where the story would take us in the second half, and although I got a couple correct, I certainly did not expect all the twists of the show. I was captivated from start to finish and that is mostly thanks to the wonderful book by Joe Tracz. A very decent story that would not, as I mentioned in my opening paragraph, feel out of place in Black Mirror is just what is needed in a West End theatre, particularly when so many shows currently out there are old films that have been rehashed and transferred to the stage.
It seems only apt that I should give each of these ticked boxes a star and that is why I feel I cannot give Be More Chill anything less than five stars. This show is only currently playing for a limited run but I truly hope this is the beginning of its life in London and it will be given the opportunity to show its fantastic feel-good vibe in front of fuller audiences for longer soon. The following this show has may have just gained one new member in me.