Review | Be More Chill, The Shaftesbury Theatre ⋆⋆⋆⋆

In Be More Chill, this quirky sci-fi fantasy musical takes the premise that a supercomputer has the functionality to make a high-schooler popular and runs, no, sprints with it. The result is an adrenaline fuelled and ultimately uplifting production which seeks to connect with misfits everywhere and remind them that they are not alone in their struggles to fit in.

Teenager Jeremy (Scott Folan) goes unnoticed by most at his school and all he wants is to win the affection of theatre nerd, Christine (Miracle Chance). He discovers that a grey oblong pill from Japan can implant a ‘Squip’ (Stewart Clarke) in his brain which will tell him what to do. When he leaps at this chance to become cool and get the girl, he loses sight of all that once mattered to him including his best friend Michael (Blake Patrick Anderson).

It’s an understatement to say that Be More Chill has had a unique and winding journey to arrive at where it is now. The coming of age teen musical first premiered in New Jersey in 2015 for a limited run and could have quite easily fallen into obscurity after that. But thanks to bootlegs and its cast recording, the musical’s popularity soared online and amassed a cult-like following on social media. The original cast recording currently boasts 475 million streams which is fairly uncharted territory for a new musical.

Interestingly, its online popularity failed to translate into strong ticket sales during its run at the 922-seater Lyceum Theatre on Broadway and it closed after six months. Following a run at London’s Other Palace in 2020 which was cut short due to the corona-virus pandemic, the Broadway import now transfers to the West End, 15 months later, for a limited 10 week run.

So is it worth the hype? Now that I’ve seen the musical on a West End stage which it fills with all its edgy and nerdy glory, I can see the musical’s appeal. With its tuneful and memorable score, energetic choreography and flawed but relatable protagonist, the musical has all the ingredients for an entertaining and endearing show. This, paired with a strong ensemble cast committed to belting and dancing the house down and you have the makings of a hit.

The Joe Iconis score which fuses techno and pop is mostly fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously. The tender ballad ‘Michael in the Bathroom’ is a moving anthem for anxious teenagers and was sweetly sung by Anderson. Another standout number was the Bye Bye Birdie inspired song “The Smartphone Hour (Rich Set a Fire)”; led by the sensational Renée Lamb, it is silly and outlandish in the craziest way.

As the Squip, dressed as a new age character from the Matrix, delivers highly questionable advice and as Jeremy continues to obey its commands, the show’s hysteria levels grows to a fever pitch. It’s hard not to draw comparisons with Little Shop of Horrors in which a foreign object is similarly on a quest for ultimate control and creates impending doom for the world. The show’s weakest link is arguably its book by Joe Tracz which is adapted from Ned Vizzini’s Young-Adult novel of the same name. Most of the importance given to the female characters derives from the gaze of the male ones and its gay/bisexual jokes feel outdated.

Given the show’s history and the uncertain times that we currently live in, whether Be More Chill has a life on the West End stage beyond its current run is anyone’s guess. But if a Black Mirror-esque musical in a high school setting sounds like your kind of thing, I’d rush to the Shaftesbury Theatre to catch this one before it closes.

Photo Credit: Picture courtesy of Be More Chill.

Be More Chill is running at The Shaftesbury Theatre until  5 September 2021 at the time of writing

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