Were the critics red-hot for Be More Chill or did it leave them all cold?
The musical became a viral sensation and now plays its UK premiere at The Other Palace
Alex Wood, WhatsOnStage
"Stephen Brackett's production, transporting most of the Broadway creative team across to the UK, wears its B-movie credentials on Bobby Frederick Tilley's quirkily costumed sleeves. From the neon glow of Beowulf Boritt's set to the jerky, angular hand gestures that reappear in Chase Brock's choreography or the synth-y orchestrations of Charlie Rosen, Brackett has set phasers to stun and largely succeeded. This is most clearly demonstrated in Alex Basco Koch's stylised projections – making The Other Palace's intimate space feel twice as wide as it actually is.
"Where Be More Chill does have the edge over other high school musicals are Joe Iconis' tunes – catchy and hummable, they ping along and never outstay their welcome, especially "Two Player Game", "More Than Survive" and the finale "Voices in My Head".
"The cast does a sturdy job. Taking all the right cues from another sci-fi classic Little Shop of Horrors, Scott Folan's Jeremy is a soon-to-be Seymour – squeaky and squawky, slightly hunched as if actively trying to make himself smaller. It's the kind of excruciating central turn that Be More Chill demands and Folan fits the role like a slightly oversized tee. There are comical yet fleet turns from the rest of the cast who each get their own moments to shine – Renée Lamb's Jenna, Millie O'Connell's Chloe and Eloise Davies' Brooke in anarchic number "The Smartphone Hour" or Miracle Chance as Scott's quirky crush Christine in "I Love Play Rehearsal".
"The real stand-out here is Blake Patrick Anderson's Michael – endearing, loyal and brimming with heart, he also gets the showstopping number in the form of "Michael in the Bathroom" just after act two kicks off. It'll be exciting to see where Anderson turns next."
Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
"Be More Chill is far from a neat continuation of a trend. Arriving from Broadway, it feels gloriously like its own thing, filled with astute observation alongside delightfully silly humour and storming performances.
"If the Squip is an internet-age metaphor for drugs such as Adderall or Ritalin, or for the noise of social media, neither of these aspects are driven home with heavy-handedness. They hover delicately around the drama and create an extra layer of anxious meaning.
"Every cast member shines, both as individual performers and an ensemble. And although they are all recognisable types, they steer just clear of appearing generic for the main. Folan has the nervy charm of Back to the Future's George McFly that he makes his own; Christopher Fry plays his depressed father and brings heart and humour to the role; Stewart Clarke's Squip initially appears like a superhero in a Matrix frock coat ('You look like Keanu Reeves,' says Jeremy) but turns power-crazed and darkly charismatic; Michael (Anderson) is winning as the grounded geek who knows his high-school persecution will not last."
Claire Allfree, The Telegraph
"From Dear Evan Hansen to Everyone's Talking About Jamie, teenagers with identity issues are in danger of becoming a cliché of contemporary musical theatre. At least this rough and ready musical arrives already validated by the very teen audience it has in its sights: following a brief, poorly-received run in New Jersey it landed a slot on off-Broadway in 2018 and then transferred to Broadway proper after the soundtrack went viral on social media.
"Brackett's zingy production, some of which takes place inside Jeremy's head, has the feel of a pleasingly cheap arcade computer game, with its whirring video projections and the analogue zap of Iconis' bleepy electro soundtrack.
"If no song feels like an instant hit, several still land with earworming power, from the springy melancholy of "Michael in the Bathroom" (fabulously sung by Anderson) to the sultry groove of "Do You Wanna Hang". There's a particularly brilliant routine ("The Smartphone Hour") delivered by the girls communicating solely on their phones."
Clive Davis, The Times
"If young adult fiction is a genre in its own right, there's no reason why young adult musicals can't be a thing too. Would I recommend Be More Chill — a cult import from Broadway — to anyone over 20? Probably not. Yet if you are the parent of a teenager who is trying to navigate the trials of school life, social media and the popularity game in general, this show is worth taking seriously.
"It's not grimly didactic, and even if Joe Tracz's book is thin stuff, there's a streak of wanton energy to Iconis' music and lyrics that makes the whole package more appealing (I'm surprised to hear myself say this) than that more portentous teenage angst hit Dear Evan Hansen. It helps too that the cast is so vivacious. Folan deserves special praise for his performance as Jeremy, the eternal loser who becomes a hit at high school after a miraculous mini computer is implanted in his head, but there isn't a single weak performance."
Theo Bosanquet, The Stage
"This latest Broadway incomer, adapted from a novel by the late Ned Vizzini, tells the story of the socially awkward Jeremy (Folan), who swallows a nanotechnological pill called a 'Squip' after being told by his school bully (James Hameed) it will change his prospects overnight."
"The lesson Jeremy learns in the end will hardly come as a surprise – the plot is as predictable as can be, while most of the characters he encounters are thinly-drawn stereotypes. There's Christine (Chance), the ultimate object of his affections, whose life is only truly fulfilled when she's in rehearsals for school plays. Meanwhile Brooke (Davies) feels like 'player two' to her popular best friend Chloe (O'Connell), and Jeremy's dad (Fry) spends his days in his dressing gown ever since his wife walked out on him."
Alice Saville, Time Out
"This Broadway import is a bit of a puzzler. Apparently, it's a new musical-theatre phenomenon that's been winning the hearts of digital native Gen Zers. But its retro story, aesthetic, sounds and social politics are all stuck somewhere between the invention of Pac-Man and the release of Green Day's "Dookie"."
"The Squip is a pretty seductive concept for nerdy teens; it gives you a kind of personalised chill advisor that only you can see, who tells you how to dress, how to act, and all about the deepest insecurities of the popular kids who seem so normal. Pretty much as soon as it rolls on to the scene (disguised in a glowing shoebox) it's also clear that it's deeply evil: a stand-in for Adderall, weed, or social media addiction."
"I'm not 100 percent sure who the target audience is for Be More Chill. Young people will surely want something more in touch with 21st century teendom, while some of the humour will alienate musical theatre's core fanbase. There's a depressing number of 'no homo' jokes about musical theatre being gay, and when someone comes out as bi it's played entirely for laughs. And several of the female characters are horribly underwritten: vapid, preening and endlessly bending down in short skirts."
Jessie Thompson, Evening Standard
"It's easy to see why the bleepy bloopy soundtrack is so popular: consolatory lyrics like 'I don't wanna be special, I just wanna survive' are Tumblr blog gold. But the appeal doesn't feel much broader than that, each song goes on forever, and the show lapses into solipsism and clichéd messages (conformity is bad, guys, don't ditch your mates for the cool people, etc). There's distinctly no chill about 350 million streams, though, and this production will undoubtedly delight the fans regardless."