I'm obviously not the target audience for "Be More Chill," the hit new musical based on a young adult novel. Discerning theatergoers are likely to find it pretty hokey, but I do have to admit it’s not all that hard to warm up to the charms of this viral sensation.
Comparisons are inevitable. With its focus on a nerdy high school student who just wants to fit in, "Dear Evan Hansen" will quickly come to mind. It even starts the same way - teenage kid raised by single parent sings in bedroom about his lonely life. You might also think of "Mean Girls" with its humorous depiction of nasty high school culture. And there's a sci-fi twist thrown in.
As the story goes, unpopular kids turn from zero to hero by swallowing a pill that’s actually a super computer controlling their brains. At the same time, they're rehearsing a zombie version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
I suspect the music, which has been streamed more than 150 million times, is the big draw. Joe Iconis' score is quite winning, especially the more tunefully intimate numbers like "Michael In The Bathroom," which actually did attach to my brain. George Salazar's fantastic performance was the highlight of the night for me.
The show is basically a fancy reboot of a production that originated three years ago in New Jersey's Two River Theater featuring some members of the original cast and creative team. Stephen Brackett keeps the direction hopping with some fun choreography by Chase Brock.
New this time around is Will Roland in the lead role as Jeremy. Yet another "...Evan Hansen" connection, he was in the original Broadway cast. He's a fine actor, but it's hard to feel sympathy for the character here after his very convincing performance as Evan's snarky friend Jared.
The entire cast is first rate, and to the credit of book writer Joe Tracz, everyone has a stand-out moment.
Teenage angst and the curse of being uncool in school is nothing new, but any show that introduces hordes of squealing young fans to the live theatre deserves applause. Even zombie Shakespeare!