Well done to the Be More Chill company. This new musical had just had its successful UK premiere and announced a lengthy extension at The Other Palace when Covid shut it down in March 2020.
It’s a fantastic achievement to see the show not only return, with its original cast, more than 15 months later, but to graduate to the West End and the much larger Shaftesbury Theatre for this limited filler season before the venue’s longer-running resident &Juliet reopens in September.
Be More Chill is adapted from the 2004 YA (young adult) novel of the same name. The book was written by Ned Vizzini, who drew on some of his own experiences in high school and who sadly committed suicide in 2013 after struggles with depression. (Very interesting feature on Vizzini in the souvenir programme – worth getting.)
The musical, with music and lyrics by Joe Iconis and book by Joe Tracz, premiered at New Jersey’s Two River Theater in 2015, when a cast album was also recorded. On the back of millions of plays of the album on Spotify propelling it into the Billboard charts, Be More Chill nabbed an Off-Broadway run in 2018, transferring to Broadway the following year and then, pre lockdown, to London in 2020.
Though I can’t help but admire such an incredible journey, this show is not for me, and not really meant to be. If I’m being generous to myself, I’m at least 25 years older than the target audience.
Of course, I remember the hell of high school, and would still welcome the superpower of knowing exactly what to say in any social situation, but I really couldn’t warm to ‘loser’ protagonist Jeremy (Scott Folan), so ready to jettison his best friend Michael in his quest for popularity. And I was left feeling slightly queasy by the Squip, the transformative Japanese supercomputer Jeremy ingests (have Bill Gates’ vaccine microchip conspiracists seen this musical?!), and the highly sexualised nature of some of the numbers.
But there are lovely performances by Miracle Chance, as Jeremy’s quirky crush Christine, and Blake Patrick Anderson, as his geeky discarded mate. And it’s wonderful to hear these two perform streaming song hits like “Michael in the Bathroom” and “A Guy That I’d Kinda Be Into” live.
Fans of Six will also be delighted to catch two of Henry VIII’s original West End wives – Renee Lamb and Millie O’Connell – back together again as high school divas raising hell in “The Smartphone Hour”.
Like Six, now reinstalled at the Lyric Theatre, Be More Chill already has its own cult following, with fans who have clearly attended multiple times and probably listened to the cast recording more times than they can count. I was definitely in a small minority who didn’t leap to my feet for an enthusiastic standing ovation at the curtain call.
It is the young fans that have propelled this musical on its remarkable journey, and I’m sure they will take it further still. More power to them.