Freaking Out About Be More Chill
A viral sensation about high school, friendship, and a singing algorithm hopes to become Broadway’s next big thing.
At the center of the Lyceum Theatre, a Broadway house built in 1903, the Be More Chill set protrudes into its filigreed Beaux-Arts surroundings with concentric frames resembling the beveled outlines of an iPhone. The set has the sheen of a giant video screen, rigged with projections that display the circuitry and computer code essential to the musical’s plot and themes. You might wonder if a technologically advanced alien race decided to build a headquarters at a historical landmark in midtown, or if the internet itself is made manifest in here. Which, in a way, it has.
Based on Ned Vizzini’s novel of teenage suburban sci-fi discontent, Be More Chill first premiered at the Two River Theater in New Jersey in 2015. It ran for four weeks and then closed. But the internet latched on to the show’s cast album, which in turn inspired art and fan fiction. The musical’s online devotees have rendered the songs, specifically the act two solo “Michael in the Bathroom,” in myriad styles of animation, including stop-motion LEGO. The album has since racked up hundreds of millions of streams. Be More Chill was the second-most-popular musical on Tumblr in 2017 and 2018, just behind Hamilton.
That attention propelled Be More Chill to run Off Broadway late last summer, when it sold out, extended its run, and sold out again. On March 10, it opens on Broadway. Along the way, the producers made time for the musical to be retooled and rebooted: The book was tweaked, a new song added, and costumes and set redesigned. They call it Be More Chill 3.0.