It’s not very often that local Philadelphia theatre companies have the opportunity to produce Broadway shows while they are currently running on Broadway. However, the Drexel community is in luck, as Drexel University’s Co-op Theatre Company has secured the rights to the hit teen musical “Be More Chill” and will be producing the show this coming spring. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity see the show in one of its first preview performances on Broadway this past weekend. Based on that performance, I can confidently say that this is a show you will not want to miss.
With music and lyrics by Joe Iconis and book by Joe Tracz, the coming-of-age musical “Be More Chill” began in 2015 at the Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey. After collecting a large fan following through the cast album on Spotify, this sci-fi musical skyrocketed to become a teen musical sensation across the globe. The company, with a few cast changes, moved Off-Broadway to the Irene Diamond Stage, and most recently began their Broadway run at the Lyceum Theater Feb. 13.
This high-anxiety musical follows high schooler Jeremy Heere (Will Roland) as he struggles with his self-esteem and high school social status. In a last resort, Jeremy learns from popular boy and bully Rich Goranski (Gerard Canonico) about a pill called The SQUIP (Jason Tam,) which seeps into Jeremy’s bloodstream and tells him what to say, how to dress and how to act in an attempt to help him become “cooler.” However, through the shows events, Jeremy learns that being “cool” in high school is not as glamorous as it seems, and that in the end it’s better to just be yourself.
On the queue, fans were sporting merchandise, discussing the previous times they had seen the hit show and expressing their excitement that it had finally moved to Broadway. The show clearly already had a dedicated and passionate fanbase, and it was evident that their love for the show ran deep. If anything, this truly shows the power of Iconis’ and Tracz’s music and message, which come to vibrant life on stage.
While the entire cast was absolutely incredible, the most memorable performance of the night came from swing Troy Iwata’s exceptional rendition of the ballad “Michael in the Bathroom.” The role of Michael Mell — Jeremy’s best friend — is usually played by the outstanding George Salazar, however Salazar had been suffering from a cold the night of the performance and could not perform. Nevertheless, Iwata confidently stepped up to the plate after just making his Broadway debut the night before, and brought the role of Mell to life.
In addition to Roland, Canonico, Tam and Iwata, the rest of the cast included Stephanie Hsu as Christine, Katlyn Carlson as Chloe, Lauren Marcus as Brooke, Tiffany Mann as Jenna, Britton Smith as Jake and Jason Williams as Mr. Heere. Each of these lead roles was extremely vital to the entirety of the show, as each individual doubled as the ensemble. They took on the roles of the student body, mall shoppers and regular neighborhood kids. Each cast member was constantly moving, as this high-intensity show was jam packed with large dance numbers and elaborate costume changes. During the curtain call, each cast member was clearly exhausted, but each of their phenomenal efforts made for one outstanding show, and one I look forward to seeing again.
Drexel University’s production of “Be More Chill” will be running from May 9-12 in the Mandell Theater.