If you were in high school, knew you would never be a cool kid, never get a date, always getting shoved into lockers and labeled a loser — would you take a pill that could reverse all of that?
Well, duh, of course!
In the world premiere of the dynamic new musical “Be More Chill” at the Two River Theater in Red Bank (NJ) through June 21, Jeremy Heere learns there is a way out of nerddom and grabs it with gusto.
Well, actually he swallows it — a squip — “It’s from Japan”! It looks like a Tic Tac but really is a super computer that embeds itself in his brain. (To activate, must be swallowed with Mountain Dew.) A voice tells Jeremy what to do, what to say, what to wear, how to walk and launches him into cool dude mode. And Jeremy’s not the only teen getting help.
Based on Ned Vizzini’s 2004 young adult novel of the same name, Two River commissioned this stage version in 2012 and put Joe Iconis (music and lyrics) together with Joe Tracz (book) to write it. They had never worked together before but should in the future because they make an awesome team. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the “awesome” there.)
This book and lyrics are true to teen speak and tackle the angst, exposes the vulnerabilities, and addresses life issues American teenagers face daily — and have for decades — without being preachy and sounding all parental like.
At a recent matinée, the teens in the audience responded with lots of laughs and a standing ovation. If you have a teen, know a teen or can rent a teen, take them to see a show all about them. It might even start a larger discussion afterward. Everyone age 30 or younger pays only $20 to get in. (Content may be too mature for people age 12 and younger.)
Standout songs include “Michael In The Bathroom,” sung by Jeremy’s only friend during a Halloween party. Now that Jeremy is cool, Michael has been left behind and left out and does what any scared person does — locks himself in the bathroom.
As Jeremy’s coolness turns into surliness and entitlement, his father realizes he needs more help than he is able to give his son, especially since dad is depressed, lives in a bathrobe, and hasn’t worn pants in a very long time. “The Pants Song” is his awakening and return to real life now that he can once again out his big boy pants on.
I know, it’s silly, but what the heck.
Besides, there is a crisis afoot. More and more teens are ingesting squips and things are spinning out of control. A cure must be found
Iconis’ music is a combination of easily accessible melodies and electronics with “Twilight Zone” inserts, and straight-out beep, bop, boop punctuation that at times include drawn out synthesizer-like sounds (although there’s none listed in the program).
The musical opens with Jeremy (Will Connolly) getting up and going to school as he sings “More Than Survive.” Yes, he just wants to survive the hallways of hell in his New Jersey High School not far from the Menlo Park Mall.
The one bright spot in his life is Christine (Stephanie Hsu), who sings “I Love Play Rehearsal,” her heaven on Earth refuge from mean kids. Jeremy signs up for the school play, too, but immediately is branded gay.
The rest of the superb cast, including Gerard Canonico (who grew up in Matawan and graduated Mater Dei High School in Middletown, a few miles away from the theater, plays the Goth-like rocker), George Salazar (Jeremy’s only friend), Jake Boyd (the jock), Katie Ladner (the plus size girl), Katlyn Carlson, and Lauren Marcus (the popular girls) all play multiple roles throughout the fast-moving show. Eric William Morris is the personification of The Squip and Paul Whitty is Jeremy’s dad, plus a few other characters.
To read an interview with Gerard Canonico, click here.
Director Stephen Brackett, choreographer Chase Brock, scenic designer Dane Laffrey, lighting designer Tyler Micoleau and sound designer Zachary Williamson deserve extra applause for integrating the look and sound so completely on a one set show.
The band sits upstage while the action happens on two levels and among five tall columns. Bathtub and vanity, tables and chairs, hospital beds, and more are rolled in and out for different scenes.
For tickets, click here.