One of the many casualties of the pandemic, Be More Chill was enjoying a highly successful off West End run at The Other Palace in early 2020 (already having its initial run extended) when disaster struck forcing the production to close seemingly never to re-open. There was a light at the end of the tunnel though when it was announced Be More Chill would finish what it started, upgrading to the Shaftesbury Theatre for a 10 week run this summer. This is hilariously acknowledged at the shows opening announcement "After an uncommonly long period of buffering".
Based on a a novel by Ned Vizzini, the show premiered in 2015, eventually making its way to Broadway for a short season in 2019. The show has become a bit of a cult hit, winning over a devoted fanbase, but is not the most well received show ever. Full disclosure: I saw the show at The Other Palace last year and it fell completely flat for me, but I wanted to give it another chance. Did my opinion change?
Be More Chill is, at its heart, a story about growing up, trying to fit in and all the struggles that come with not being one of the popular kids. A story we've seen on the stage time and time again, Be More Chill's unique selling point is the sci-fi aspect. Jeremy (played by Scott Folan) takes a SQUIP (Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor... It's from Japan) - a super computer implanted into his brain which tells him what to say and do, which will in turn enable him to be more chill. If your mind has just been blown by that plot summary, you might want to check in case your SQUIP is faulty.
An original concept but one that definitely appeals to a very niche audience. Be More Chill makes it clear it is aimed at the youth of today but that is not to say there isn't anything here to please the older generations, though some of the references may fall flat on them. A simple and mostly bare stage gives way to an impressive video screen that immerses us into the world. With great visual effects, the backdrop is one of the most exciting aspects of the show.
A great cast has been assembled for this production. Scott Folan is wonderful transitioning from a "loser geek whatever" to one of the cool kids, while Miracle Chance is utterly captivating and hilarious as his love interest Christine. Stewart Clarke gives us his best Keanu Reeves as the SQUIP, Millie O'Connell and Eloise Davies have great chemistry as best friends Chloe and Brooke while Renée Lamb has the ability to steal scenes in a small but memorable role.
The standout performances goes to Blake Patrick Anderson as Michael. Having played the role in the off West End production, he has since gone on to win hearts in RENT and Hair. Here he makes his West End debut as Jeremy's best friend and favourite person. Channeling his emotional depth, the audience go on a journey with him as he goes through the characterization of Michael in a masterclass of acting. While his time on stage is fairly limited, he makes every second count. His performance of the shows best number 'Michael in the Bathroom' in act 2 is the highlight of the night by a mile and shows what a remarkable talent Blake Patrick Anderson truly is. A star in the making, watch out for him in the future as you are bound to be seeing him everywhere.
The show has an upbeat, contemporary score with music and lyrics from Joe Iconis, though all of the best songs seem to congregate together in the second act. The previously mentioned showstopper 'Michael In The Bathroom' is swiftly followed by show highlights 'The Smartphone Hour', 'The Pants Song' and 'The Pitiful Children'. This leads to a much stronger second act than the first. While it is not without its standout moments ('More Than Survive' and 'Two Player Game' being among them), the first act is definitely weaker in comparison, with pacing issues and not as many memorable songs being the biggest issue.
Though slightly inconsistent at times, I found myself enjoying Be More Chill much more this time around. The production is much slicker and the show benefits from being on a bigger stage. When it's good, it's really good. While it might not be everybody's cup of Mountain Dew, it is a harmless bit of fun. With some great songs, a fabulous cast and fantastic video effects, Be More Chill is essentially musical theatre joy in pill form - a medicine we could all benefit from taking right now. So what are you waiting for? C-c-c-come on and go to the show.
Be More Chill plays at the Shaftesbury Theatre until September 10th. Tickets available from http://www.shaftesburytheatre.com/shows/be-more-chill/