"Be More Chill" is a musical success story that almost didn't happen. The Off-Broadway show debuting later this month enjoyed modest success when it first premiered at Two River Theater in New Jersey in 2015. The production ran for six weeks and a cast album got made. Two years later, without warning or any particular prompt, fan interest took off in the form of an underground viral obsession, particularly among young people. Streams of the cast recording were downloaded more than a hundred million times and the blizzard of attention led to the revival opening July 26 at the Pershing Square Signature Center.
I first heard about "Be More Chill" when my theater-loving teenager and his friends started singing the songs in the back seat on the way home from play rehearsal. They knew all the words and even the back story to a musical I never knew existed. I thought it called for some investigation, so I tracked down Joe Iconis, the performer and writer (along with writer Joe Tracz) behind the musical adaptation of Ned Vizzini’s novel about an adolescent longing to become more social.
First, what's the basic premise of "Be More Chill?"
It's a sci-fi musical comedy about a teenager named Jeremy who goes to high school in suburban New Jersey. He’s the least special kid. He’s not loser-y enough to be a total loser. He’s not a nerd, a jock or a freak. He falls between the different categories. Through a series of events he finds out there’s something called a "squip," which is a super computer implanted into a pill that tells him how to behave. All the kids who are cool are under guidance of the squip. Some sound like Eddie Murphy. Some sound like Meryl Streep. He decides to take it.