It’s perhaps ironic that Be More Chill is a production which needs to take a chill pill. Musical numbers are either drawn out, unnecessary or both; scenes are rushed with little time for pause and characters lack appeal beyond their high school stereotypes. I’m left asking my partner: do we really need another musical about a nerdy teen trying to fit in?
That is the all too common situation which faces protagonist Jeremy (Scott Folan), desperate to match with Christine (Miracle Chance) but is instead forced to deal with a debilitating lack of being ‘cool’ with his best friend Michael (Blake Michael Harrison, who delivers a standout, endearing performance). He suggests that humanity has stopped evolving because of its reliance on technology, and in this instance, Jeremy ends up relying on a pill consumed with Mountain Dew which introduces a supercomputer, known as The Squip, into the brain to help the person be cool. This may sound complex, but it’s this musical’s most compelling and intriguing aspect – courtesy of author Ned Vizzini, whose book is the inspiration for this production. How much can technology control emotions? How do they intertwine and conflict?
It’s therefore a shame that a lot of the story is buried under the music, rather than elevated by it. With the exception of Harrison’s incredible solo number, “Michael in the Bathroom” (catchy only for its plinky plonky, nursery-like main melody), the soundtrack is completely forgettable. One song, The Smartphone Hour, is dedicated to revealing that a house has burned down after the kids attend a party, only for Jeremy’s Dad to come in with a newspaper announcing the news.
A lot of Be More Chill is devoid of anything meaningful or impactful, as characters and numbers feel throwaway. Girls speak with a grating, whiny American accent, and Jeremy’s whole drive as a character is around the premise of being ‘cool’, with hardly any expansion upon that which differs it from other high school musicals. Yes, there’s a whole subplot around his underperforming father, but when this turns out to only be there to make a ‘wears the trousers’ joke, Joe Tracz’s adaptation just doesn’t take itself seriously. Jokes about virginity and sex are awkward and feel edgy only to appeal to the outcast generation. Even if the aim of this quirky musical is to be laid-back in nature, then even with its strong fandom, it fails to generate much of a buzz to keep you engaged in the auditorium.
It’s clear that’s what it’s aiming for, with its rushing, flashing, but nonetheless eye-catching screen displays and video from Alex Basco, but for a sci-fi musical all about technology, Be More Chill just left me feeling disconnected.
Be More Chill is now playing at Shaftesbury Theatre until 5 September.
Production Images: Matthew Crockett.