Composer Joe Iconis and librettist Joe Tracz’s contemporary musical comedy Be More Chill, a tuneful, silly and witty look at high school hell, receives an enjoyable, fun-loving regional premiere at Sinclair Community College.
Based on the novel by Ned Vizzini and breezily directed by Chris Harmon, Be More Chill primarily concerns uncool New Jersey teenager Jeremy Heere’s pursuit to become popular in order to win the heart of theater geek Christine Canigula. It’s a fairly simple yet relatable premise accented with a sci-fi twist when Jeremy takes a special pill called a SQUIP (Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor), a computer implanted in his brain that acts as a powerful puppet master, getting him to do whatever he’s told. Iconis and Tracz’s hip high school lingo hits the mark but they oddly fall short of creating substantive three-dimensional characters (Christine and Jeremy’s Dad are among the many underwritten roles). However, their savvy ability to frame the show as a relevant cautionary tale about bullying, peer pressure, depression, suicide, and the onslaught of social media, giving credence to lines such as “a shared negative opinion is the fastest social bond,” is a plus.
Anthony Dell’Aria is a wonderfully pleasant leading man, allowing Jeremy to be someone you can easily root for even as he becomes unnervingly overwhelmed and possessed by the SQUIP. Sweet and endearing Katelyn Pennington (Christine) brings lighthearted flightiness to I Love Play Rehearsal and A Guy That I’d Kinda Be Into. Outstanding Micah Koverman (Jeremy’s best friend Michael Mell) steals the show with ostracized finesse and provides a fantastic rendition of Michael in the Bathroom, an emotional, unforgettable soliloquy bound to resonate for anyone who has ever felt rejected, abandoned, isolated, or alone. Handsomely suave Jared Setser is a perfect fit for the SQUIP, oozing seductive and dastardly charisma in The SQUIP Song and The Pitiful Children. Joseph Herzog (Jake Dillinger) showcases his cool dance skills to the fullest in Halloween. DeShawn Christian (Rich Goranski) has a tendency to let his unbridled energy get the best of him, but he’s funny where it counts nonetheless. Rachel Charles (Chloe Valentine) and Brianna Babel (Brooke Lohst) delightfully join forces as a naughty pair of mean girls. Nikki Bentz (Jenna Rolan) comically leads The Smartphone Hour featuring nifty choreography by Rodney Veal. Christopher Goetz’s flamboyance as drama teacher Mr. Reyes would be better served with variety, but he’s very effective at conveying the stagnation within Jeremy’s Dad. Ensemble members include Elisha Chamberlin, Lydia Dye, Caitlyn Hood, Christopher Leavitt, Cormari Pullings, Tanner Titkemeyer, Austin Vega, and Valkyrie Williams.
Harmon’s artistic team includes scenic and property designer Terry Stump, costumer Kathleen Hotmer, lighting designer Marissa Childress, sound designer Sarah Parrott, and projection designer Jeffrey Brown. Music director David McKibben has a firm grip on the challenging score and great vocal arrangements, but lyrics are often muddled or incomprehensible perhaps due to the cast’s inability to hear conductor Bryon Dobbs’ orchestra located backstage.
Be More Chill originally opened at New Jersey’s Two River Theater in 2015 and gained a huge cult following thanks to its cast recording, which has had over 170 million streams. It also became the No. 2 most talked-about show on Tumblr after Hamilton, had a sold-out run off-Broadway this past summer, and is heading to Broadway in February. The sheer fact that Sinclair was able to secure the rights to one of the hottest shows in the country speaks volumes.
Containing humorous shades of 13, Avenue Q, Bat Boy, Dear Evan Hansen, Heathers, Legally Blonde, Little Shop of Horrors, Mean Girls, The Rocky Horror Show, and The Wedding Singer, Be More Chill admirably addresses the importance of friendship and the value of loving and accepting yourself above all else.
Be More Chill continues through Oct. 13 in Blair Hall Theatre of Sinclair Community College, Building 2, 444 W. Third St., Dayton. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. and Thursday at 7 p.m. Act One: 65 minutes; Act Two: 65 minutes. Tickets are $18 for adults and $15 for students and seniors. Tickets for the Thursday performance are $10. All seats are reserved and available online at sinclair.edu/tickets. Thursday, Sunday and the first Saturday performances are ASL interpreted by student interpreters Catherine Johnson, Macy Reitz, Cecelia Shannon, and Destinie Warren. Due to content and language, the show is recommended for patrons 14 and older.