Be More Chill
Reviewed – 6th July 2021
“an undeniably addictive show”
Based on Ned Vizzini’s 2004 novel of the same name, it is difficult to watch the musical adaptation without the added poignancy wrought from the knowledge that Vizzini took his own life at the age of thirty-two. He was aware that the musical was being produced – indeed even excited at the prospect. Writer Joe Tracz and composer and lyricist, Joe Iconis, had just finished the first draft when they learned about the author’s death. Sadly, he hadn’t yet heard any of the music, much of which represents Vizzini’s personal struggles.
It’s hard to know how much of the innate sorrow washes over the audience’s head. “Be More Chill” is unquestionably aimed at the younger demographic, and one hopes that it speaks to them more directly than the whoops and cheers that accompany the action suggests. There is a superficiality that belies the subtext and, whilst you cannot ignore the sheer entertainment value of the production, it would be a shame to belittle the significance. As a (slightly) older member of the audience I try to put myself in a younger pair of shoes. Yes, I can argue that there’s nothing ground breakingly new here, but the freshness of Iconis’ music and lyrics, with Tracz’s book pull you in to the story; a pull made more forceful by the strength of the performances.
Stephen Brackett’s production focuses on two high school characters doing their best to try to fit in: Jeremy; who is on a quest to find acceptance, initially with a self-absorbed disregard of anything or anybody else (cue the scope for redemption), and Michael who is more accepting of his oddball status. Jeremy is persuaded to try a new pill called SQUIP (Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor) which imports a supercomputer into the brain and instructs him how to achieve the self-confidence he needs. It is a short cut to the popularity he dreams of but, being a heavy-handed metaphor, comes with the predictable downfalls. Michael is sceptical. What follows is a weird and sometimes wonderful storyline that is a mixture of high school musical and sci-fi fantasy.
Scott Folan’s Jeremy is a perfect mix of charm and angst, susceptibility and awareness. The standout is Blake Patrick Anderson as Michael. The audience cannot fail to be gripped by his show stealing performance, particularly during the most recognisable number, ‘Michael in the Bathroom’. Yet each cast member shines in their own way. Stewart Clarke as the personification of ‘Squip’: an intended pastiche and homage to Keanu Reeves in ‘The Matrix’. Miracle Chance illuminates the stage as love interest, Christine, while Christopher Fry delights as Jeremy’s father – trouser-less but nevertheless still ‘wearing the pants’.
The characters are brought further to life by Alex Basco Koch’s video projections which hypnotically convey the altered states of their minds. There are moments when the narrative steers a bit too close to confusion, but the actors pull it back and through song refocus on the heart of the matter. It’s a show of extremes; of suffering and joy, the agony and ecstasy. It’s initial run Off-Broadway failed to ignite its audience, and it simmered silently for a couple of years. Through word of mouth and YouTube clips the soundtrack eventually hit the charts and a cult phenomenon was born. Paradoxically you can understand both receptions. It is an undeniably addictive show, although I can see why some might want to resist it. But if you can cast aside reservations and learn to ‘be more chill’ it is well worth the ‘trip’.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography courtesy Be More Chill
Be More Chill
Shaftesbury Theatre until 5th September
Previously reviewed at this venue this year:
WEST END PRODUCTION CELEBRATES FIRST BIRTHDAY
CASTING UPDATE & NOW BOOKING UNTIL
The hit West End production of Motown the Musical today (10 February 2017) releases over 200,000 new tickets for sale with the show now booking at the Shaftesbury Theatre to 24 February 2018 as the production celebrates its first birthday in London.
With music and lyrics from the Motown catalogue and book by Motown founder Berry Gordy the production features a sixteen-piece orchestra playing 50 Motown tracks including Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, I’ll Be There, Dancing In The Street, Stop! In The Name Of Love, My Girl and I Heard It through the Grapevine. Charles Randolph-Wright’s production tells the story behind the classic hits.
With just $800 borrowed from his family, Motown founder Berry Gordy, goes from featherweight boxer to heavyweight music mogul, discovering and launching the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and many more. Motown the Musical uncovers the true story of the legendary record label that changed music history and created the soundtrack of a generation.
The Tony nominated Motown the Musical received its world premiere in April 2013 in New York with Berry Gordy and legendary Motown artists Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Mary Wilson, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder attending opening night. The show began its West End run in February 2016 with Gordy, Robinson and Wilson once again supporting the show on opening night. Subsequently, during the London run, The Four Tops and Martha Reeves have also visited the production. The first US National Tour opened to critical acclaim in Spring 2014 in Chicago and continues to play to packed houses across America.
From 7 March 2017 the West End cast comprises Cedric Neal as Berry Gordy with Lucy St. Louis as Diana Ross, Obioma Ugoala as Smokey Robinson and Sifiso Mazibuko as Marvin Gaye. Members of the ensemble play the roles of Eddie Kendricks, Jackie Wilson, Anna Gordy, Esther, Teena Marie, Florence Ballard, Martha Reeves, Tito Jackson, Jermaine Jackson, Mary Wells, Mary Wilson and Stevie Wonder. The ensemble features Cameron Bernard Jones, Ryan Carter, KM Drew Boateng, Samuel Edwards, Dujonna Gift-Simms, Vanessa Fisher, Terique Jarrett, Cleopatra Joseph, Wilson Kiiru, Natasha Leaver, Brandon Lee Sears, Kieran McGinn, Simone Mistry-Palmer, Samuel Nicholas, Brianna Ogunbawo, Matt Overfield, Jay Perry, Timothy Quinlan, Simon Ray Harvey, Sharon Rose, Lawrence Rowe, Ashley Samuels, Carl Spencer, Richard Taylor Woods, Alex Thomas-Smith, Cherelle Williams, Michael Woolston-Thomas and Jayme-Lee Zanoncelli. Nana Ageyman-Bediako, 11 years old from Haringey, London, Raphael Higgins-Humes, 11 years old from Greenwich, London, Rio Myers, 10 years old from Lewisham, London and Tumo Reetsang, 12 years old from Southwark, London alternate the role of Young Michael Jackson.
Motown the Musical is directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, has music supervision, orchestrations and arrangements by Ethan Popp, co-orchestrations and additional arrangements by Bryan Cook, dance arrangements by Zane Mark and music direction by Gareth Weedon. Choreography is by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams, scenic design by David Korins, costumes by ESOSA, lighting by Natasha Katz, sound by Peter Hylenski and projections by Daniel Brodie. UK Associate Director is Tara Wilkinson, UK Associate Set Designer is Andrew Edwards and UK Associate Lighting Designer is Alistair Grant. Motown the Musical will be produced in the West End by Kevin McCollum, Doug Morris, Berry Gordy and Adam Spiegel.
Motown the Musical is proudly supported by Swarovski crystal who originally partnered with the show on Broadway and provided 400,000 Swarovski crystals for costume and set.
Production photography by Alastair Muir