The narrative, at a macro level, has certainly been done before. If, for instance, you’re after a variation on the old theme of good triumphing over evil, look elsewhere – a sharp correction in the right direction in the life of Jeremy Heere (a suitably fresh-faced Scott Folan) is about as subtle as the melting of the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz. Jeremy, a bit of a social outcast at high school, finds a way to increase his popularity. His motive in proceeding with a course of action that has unknown consequences is similar to that of Evan in Dear Evan Hansen, and like Evan, Jeremy must dig deep and seek help if he is to continue down the path he has chosen.
The help comes in the form of The Squip (Stewart Clarke), a pill invented and manufactured in Japan that contains a computer. This device finds its way to the pill taker’s head and instructs that person as to what they should say and do – or indeed, not say and not do. For those who really must know the etymology of certain words, Squip is an acronym for Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor.
Some of the humour is of school playground quality, which is commensurate with the musical’s youthful setting. While I may have begun by rolling my eyes (and not in a good way) at some of the corny punchlines I eventually warmed to them somewhat. Every so often, a rather outdated opinion is expressed, which is surprising given the vast majority of characters in the show are millennials: signing up for a series of after-school rehearsals for the end of year school play was perceived to be “gay”. Perhaps it’s indicative of how long it can take to fully develop a musical. Perhaps it’s indicative of certain attitudes that still prevail in modern society. Perhaps it’s both.
The use of video projections (Alex Basco Koch) is impressive, particularly in ‘The Smartphone Hour (Rich Set A Fire)’, which also showcased Chase Brock’s choreography better than any other musical number. Elsewhere, however, the lyrics can be rather repetitive, even by musical theatre standards, and the show’s opening lyric, “C-c-c-c-c’mon, c-c-c-c-c’mon, let’s go”, reflected how I felt about the storyline on occasions when it stagnated.
The cast undoubtedly work hard. There’s a stand-out singing voice in Renée Lamb’s Jenna Rolan, who very nearly brought the house down. The sound balance between the orchestra (directed by Louisa Green) and the actors as they sing is spot on. A healthy celebration of the quirky and eccentric provides hope for those who lack the confidence and assertiveness of those already popular. Some of the musical numbers are rather lengthy, however – if you’re familiar with the work of Jason Robert Brown, a couple of songs in this show are about as long as some of his compositions, but not always with the same level of plot intensity.
I suppose there’s a reason for having yet another show that reaches out to those who have simply wanted to belong, to be accepted, to be loved – it’s highly relatable to many people, who at some point or other may have felt lonely and/or unloved. Popularity has its benefits (y’know, like box office receipts for the production) but it isn’t the only important thing in life. As far as the music goes, I didn’t have any of the tunes in my head on the Tube home. Parts of the show’s book are bizarre, too: Greta Thunberg is randomly namedropped, and for some reason sections of the audience found it amusing when someone ‘came out’ as bisexual in the closing minutes of the show.
The show has its stereotypes, most notably in the form of Brooke Lohst (Eloise Davies) and Chloe Valentine (Millie O’Connell), who appear to be there as photogenic people who, to put it politely, are otherwise intellectually challenged. That said, it’s a slick and smooth production – and for all my reservations about it, I suspect I need to, um, be more chill.
Review by Chris Omaweng
BE MORE CHILL is the new musical sensation that’s about to invade your brain… in the best way. An unprecedented international phenomenon, this original and hilarious show exploded onto the musical theatre scene and electrified audiences during its runs off- and on Broadway. Featuring a Tony Award®-nominated score bursting with addictive earworms, BE MORE CHILL is a mind-bendingly fun hit about the competing voices in all of our heads.
It’s just your atypical love story – a guy (he wants to fit in), a girl (she wants to be noticed), and the supercomputer inside the guy’s head that tells him what to do (it wants to take over the world!). According to The New Yorker, “If you fed Dear Evan Hansen to the Little Shop of Horrors plant, you’d get BE MORE CHILL.” In other words, it’s both a relatable tale about how far we’ll go for a little validation… and an otherworldly delight about a loveable geek and his very invasive (im)plant. What’s not to love?
Be More Chill Cast
Blake Patrick Anderson – MICHAEL MELL
Miracle Chance – CHRISTINE CANIGULA
Stewart Clarke – THE SQUIP
Eloise Davies – BROOKE LOHST
Christopher Fry – MR HEERE, MR REYES + OTHERS
James Hameed – RICH GORANSKI
Scott Folan – JEREMY HEERE
Renee Lamb – JENNA ROLAN
Millie O’Connell – CHLOE VALENTINE
Miles Paloma – JAKE DILLINGER
Gabriel Hinchliffe – UNDERSTUDY
Eve Norris – UNDERSTUDY
Jon Tsouras – UNDERSTUDY
With original music and lyrics by Joe Iconis and a book by Joe Tracz. Joining them on the creative team are director Stephen Brackett, choreographer Chase Brock, set designer Beowulf Boritt, costume designer Bobby Frederick Tilley II, lighting designer Tyler Micoleau, sound designer Ryan Rumery and projection designer Alex Basco Koch with wigs by Dave Bova. Orchestrations are by Charlie Rosen, vocal arrangements by Emily Marshall, UK Musical Direction by Louisa Green and UK casting is by Will Burton.
The Shaftesbury Theatre
210 Shaftesbury Avenue
Wednesday 30 June – Sunday 5 September 2021
Tuesdays – Saturdays at 7:30pm
Thursday & Saturday matinees at 2.30pm
Sundays at 4pm