Geeking Out With Joe Iconis of "Be More Chill"

Photo: Genevieve Rafter Keddy

Photo: Genevieve Rafter Keddy

Geeking Out With Joe Iconis of "Be More Chill" | Stage Buddy

The promise of popularity and getting to date the cool kid are what most high schoolers dream of, and if there was some sort of magic way to achieve them probably very few would refuse it. In Be More Chill, the Faustian device comes in the shape of The Squip, a tiny, but powerful computer that offers young Jeremy (Will Connolly) the chance to conquer Christine (Stephanie Hsu) and achieve popularity in his New Jersey school. But as most heroes willing to sell a part of them to please societal expectations know, there will be a price to pay. With music and lyrics by Joe Iconis, and a book by Joe Tracz, Be More Chill is one of the most endearing (although that’s definitely not a chill word…) musicals about high school students made. Iconis’ combination of genres and his inventive use of rhymes make for one delightful experience.

Young audience members and listeners (the cast recording is now available on Sh-K-Boom records) will most likely identify with the colorful characters from Ned Vizzini’s novel, given exciting new life by Iconis and Tracz. In fact, part of the musical’s appeal is how it might inspire others to become creators themselves. Those who take on the challenge of coming up with a music video for “Michael in the Bathroom” for example, can enter a contest to win a free license, plus a chat with Iconis and Tracz. I spoke to Iconis about giving voice to young people through his work, and an assortment of other musical theatre geekery.

Listening to Be More Chill it struck me how much of a nerd Jeremy is, and given how you often mention your own nerdiness, did you put a lot of yourself into the character?

Yeah, absolutely! I feel like most of the characters I’ve written are just versions of myself to certain degrees. I certainly see a more than usual amount of myself in Jeremy, I like people who feel like misfits and outcasts because I’ve felt that way myself at certain points in my life, and probably I always will. As far as like the specific nerdiness of Jeremy, my version of that is growing up I was the ultimate theatre geek, I loved musical theatre, it was my thing. I was obsessed with it, so the obsessive fandom in general is something I really understand. Fixating on this thing you love regardless of whether it can further your social status in life is something I’ve always done and continue to do. I loved the idea of having a musical where the leading man is a weirdo, who’s also given the gravity that comes with being the lead.

If there were real life SQUIPs when you were in high school, and they’d given you the voice of someone else, who would you have chosen?

I feel like I don’t know who my SQUIP would’ve been like in high school, but now I go back and forth between Martin Scorsese, Kermit the Frog or Stephen Sondheim.

Even those are pretty nerdy! I thought you’d go with Superman or The Karate Kid.

That’s not even intentional, it’s my brain! It’s just my idea of a cool person, maybe in high school I’d chosen someone stupid who I thought was cool, but now I own my nerdiness enough that of course I’d want my SQUIP to be Sondheim.

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