By Mary Ann Bourbeau |
A production of “Be More Chill,” which premiered at the Two River Theater in 2015, is set to begin an off-Broadway run July 26 thanks to a devoted underground fan base.
Three years after the release of the cast album, millions of fans around the world have discovered this quirky little show, streaming the soundtrack and sharing fan art on social media.
Based on Ned Vizzini’s 2004 cult novel about teens coming of age in the digital world, “Be More Chill” tells the story of Jeremy Heere, an average teenager in an average New Jersey town. Jeremy learns about a squip – a tiny supercomputer inside a pill that, if swallowed, will tell you how to dress, how to speak and how to become cool, or “chill.” The story follows Jeremy’s journey as his desire to be popular is pitted against his struggle to remain true to his authentic self.
This original musical comedy about teenage outcasts, with music and lyrics by Joe Iconis and a book by Joe Tracz, tackles issues such as depression, bullying and anxiety. It enjoyed modest success during its run at the Two River Theater but gained a massive fan base through social media, and became the second most talked about show on Tumblr after “Hamilton.” The cast album, created by the Two River Theater and released by Ghostlight Records, has been streamed more than 150 million times.
“It is unprecedented that the original cast recording of a scrappy little show that premiered at Two River Theater in New Jersey, without a Broadway or an off-Broadway run, would stream over 100 million,” said Kurt Deutsch, president of Ghostlight Records. “This is truly a young theater tribe phenomenon. Thank the theater gods that Two River made sure the original cast recording was preserved. Otherwise, without a cast recording, I don’t think any of this would be happening.”
Iconis, who wrote “Broadway, Here I Come” for the television show “Smash,” hosted a sold-out Q&A last month at the Two River Theater. He describes the show as a sci-fi musical comedy, like a ‘90s teen movie mixed with an ‘80s horror film mixed with a very serious story about teenage depression and suicide.
“It’s been this monster that keeps growing and growing,” he said in an interview with Billboard earlier this year. “When I was writing it, I talked so much to people about how I was writing a show about anxiety and depression and actual kids who didn’t feel like they belonged. For me, to have kids so immediately respond to all the things I said the show is about, is the most amazing thing.”
Will Roland, who originated the role of Jared Kleinman in Broadway’s “Dear Evan Hansen,” will star in the off-Broadway production of “Be More Chill,” along with Gerard Canonico, George Salazar, Katlyn Carlson, Stephanie Hsu and Lauren Marcus, all members of the original production.
“We knew the world premiere of ‘Be More Chill’ was something special,” said Michael Hurst, Two River’s managing director. “During the Two River run, we saw an immediate response from a passionate fan base. This inspired us to create an original cast recording, which, over time, organically amassed a worldwide fan base. Two River is thrilled with the success of the show, but even more thrilled that the stellar work of Two River is finding an audience beyond Red Bank and Monmouth County. Two River’s name and work is being seen and heard worldwide.”
Two River Theater and Ghostlight Records will release a two-disc vinyl edition of the original cast recording on July 27, featuring new illustrative designs, production photos, lyrics and new liner notes from Iconis.
“Before ‘Be More Chill’ even starts previews at the Pershing Square Signature Center, it became one of the most popular new musicals in America, with a passionate fan base that dwarfs the number of people who have ever seen the show,” wrote the New York Times.
The off-Broadway production is scheduled to run through Sept. 23. Tickets are $65 to $140. For more information,visitsignaturetheatre.org.
Arts and entertainment writer Mary Ann Bourbeau can be reached at email@example.com.
This article was first published in the July 26-Aug. 2, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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