Even if you don’t frequent the theater, you may have heard of the musical Be More Chill. After playing a limited engagement at the Two River Theater in New Jersey in 2015, and a year of obscurity, the Joe Iconis and Joe Tracz musical seemingly became an internet sensation overnight. And that may just be one of the reasons why this musical, with its cult following, managed to get itself to Broadway.
Despite its Broadway status and even a Tony nomination for Best Score, however, Be More Chill seems to be more suited for a community theater, like North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre (NRACT), than it does on Broadway. NRACT was one of the first theaters in the country to be given the license to perform Be More Chill, even while the show was playing on Broadway.
Be More Chill tells the story of Jeremy, a teenager who swallows a Squip, a pill which is a supercomputer the size of an aspirin, to become cool. The supercomputer is both activated and deactivated with a swig of Mountain Dew.
Filled to the brim with pubescent awkwardness and jokes that land only for some, Be More Chill is a charming treat for anyone looking to have a good time. For me, there were four things in the NRACT production that made this show stand out among the others I’ve seen: the set, the costumes, the music, and the performances.
First, the set was very interesting. Everything the set, from beds to chairs to displays in the mall was created using the same set of gray building blocks that were moved around by the cast throughout the production. The backdrop also had removable pieces that members of the cast would frequently sing through.
Second, my personal favorite part of the show was Sheila Cox’s costumes. The costumes all identified the characters in a very specific way. Christine, the manic pixie dream girl with heavy insecurities of her own, played by Kristin Wingfield, donned a bedazzled backpack and overalls which gave me a sense of who she was— a girl full of hope and excitement. Chloe and Brooke, the popular girls at school, portrayed by Hannah Smith and Faith Brunswick respectively, wore similar costumes, each with short skirts and tights that could have been pulled from the same rack. Finally, the Squip, played by Tyler Graeper, (fresh off his run at Raleigh Little Theatre as Monty D’ysquith in their production of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder), wore what may be my favorite costume ever, a sparkly shirt with the words “Made in Japan.” This gave a moment of hilarity, but as the show progressed, his costume slowly got darker and more dramatic.
Third, in my opinion, every show that has the band on stage with them is a special type of show, and NRACT’s Be More Chill was no exception. The band was small, only three people, but their performance on stage made the production that much more intimate.
And finally, this cast was just amazing. Wingfield’s Christine brought a sense of excitement and wonder to those in the audience, while Spencer Giles’s portrayal of Michael, Jeremy’s best friend, nearly brought me to tears during his solo performance of Michael in the Bathroom. And Brayden Roberge’s Jeremy portrayed the awkward side of teen angst with wit and charm. I say this as genuinely as possible, this is one of the most talented casts I’ve seen in a community theatre production so far.
I’m bound to be missing something in this review, but even a week later, I’m still in shock at how well this show worked. Of course, no show is without its downsides, and certain jokes and moments made me squirm in my seat with discomfort. Much of this is the fault of the writers, not this cast.
I can’t write anything about Be More Chill without mentioning that the “big theater critics” have a problem with this show. It seems that the critics of the New York Times and other major newspapers dislike the fact that a show can simply be fun. What they fail to understand is that a teen musical does not have to be filled to the brim with tears and troubles to be touching. And NRACT’s production of Be More Chill drives that point home better than even I, who have been following this show’s track since its beginning, could have ever imagined.
The North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre production of Be More Chill runs through November 10th. For more information, visit http://www.nract.org/shows#/be-more-chill/ or the RDU on Stage Performing Arts Calendar.