Shaftesbury Theatre, London – until 5 September 2021
While this musical has plenty for young people to relate to, Be More Chill could have gone into a lot more depth in exploring important issues such as body image and anxiety.
Based on the novel of the same name by Ned Vizzini, there is no doubting that Be More Chill translates into a colourful and energetic production with plenty of talented performances – but it has to be said that it does feel as though it loses its way in terms of exploring the important issues that come through in the story.
The show follows that of Jeremy – a teenager who nobody notices except to make fun of him – until one day he is introduced to a squip which is essentially a pill with a microchip that then manifests itself as an invisible companion telling him how to act. It all has a science fiction feel about it that is really wonderfully brought to life in this production thanks to Alex Basco Koch’s stunningly effective projection designs that help enhance this vibe further, while Tyler Micoleau’s lighting highlights scenes in a sophisticated way.
Directed with great energy by Stephen Brackett, what lets the show down is the way in which Joe Tracz’s book doesn’t seem to effectively explore in depth the anxieties and problems that so completely relatable to anyone who has been a teenager going through high school.
There are certainly flashes of it on occasion in the show when you get a glimpse into Jeremy’s school life or when Chloe confesses that she doesn’t feel as liked as her best friend Brooke – but some of these moments could have gone into further detail but feel as though the teens concerns are slightly brushed aside. This is in part due to the fact that some of the characters could have themselves been developed further with a lot of reliance on the typical characters you see in high schools – it would have been nice to have seen more evidence of the layers of what goes on below the surface.
However, this being said there is much to be said about the music and lyrics from Joe Iconis which really gives the story its heart effectively and constantly keeps the audience on their toes. Songs such as ‘More Than Survive’ and ‘Michael in the Bathroom’ really highlight the sense of loneliness and isolation that many teenagers (and of course adults) can experience. Each song adds real context to the story that can be lacking in the script while having a lot of fun as ‘Halloween’ and ‘I Love Play Rehearsal’ prove. Every song is enhanced further by the sleek and energetic choreography by Chase Brock and Bobby Frederick Tilley II’s flamboyant and bold costume designs.
The performances from all of the cast are all wonderfully joyous to watch and really lift the production to another level. Miracle Chance as Christine provides great energy and insight into her character highlighting the many different aspects to her personality really well. Elsewhere, Stewart Clarke as The Squip is very subtly nasty and controlling that is intriguing and compelling to watch, Blake Patrick Anderson offers a wonderfully warm and likeable performance as Michael and Scott Folan captures the constant internal conflict that Jeremy has with himself and of course The Squib with great thoughtfulness.
Be More Chill is a colourful and vibrant production – but it feels like a little bit of work is needed still on the book to give it that extra depth to make it feel completely satisfying. This being said, it is still easy to see why so many people have found it relatable.
By Emma Clarendon
Be More Chill will run at the Shaftesbury Theatre from the 30th June until the 5th September.