Be More Chill at The Other Palace
A lonely, always-online nerd gets taken in by a misogynist pick-up artist in order to become popular and woo the object of his affection.
Maybe this is not the summary that Be More Chill is after. And admittedly, there’s more charm to Scott Folan’s Jeremy than that description would suggest. But it still forms the oddly dark core concept for a musical that’s become something of a minor sensation.
Based on Ned Vizzini’s 2004 novel – with music and lyrics by Joe Iconis and a book by Joe Tracz – the show is pretty much a high school Little Shop of Horrors, only with the carnivorous Audrey II replaced by a Japanese supercomputer in pill form. Once taken, Jeremy is commanded by an avatar of the ”SQUIP” – Stewart Clarke plays him as if Neo from The Matrix had read The Game by Neil Strauss – to download everything he needs to be cool.
You can probably guess where this is going. Jeremy clashes with his deadbeat dad (Christopher Frey), stoner best friend (Blake Patrick Anderson) and trio of lust interests (Miracle Chance, Eloise Davies and Millie O’Connell, all of whom deserve better) en route to discovering that everyone is just as insecure and jealous as he is.
Transferring to London after intermittent runs on and off Broadway, The Other Palace’s production feels unfinished. And although this is in part due to a songbook that skews towards the generically upbeat, the real killer is the decision to host most of the staging onscreen. Bar the odd prop – clunkily dragged on and off by the cast – almost all the ”sets” and scene changes are shown by graphics that would have looked out of date two decades ago.
It leaves the production in the awkward position of not doing enough with the space-dominating screen – the number of missed opportunities for a narrative that frequently discusses video games and social media is shocking – but also of having nothing physical to distract from its frequent blandness.
Similarly, the choreography feels basic, unable to make up for the lack of physical substance on stage. And for whatever reason, be it limited space or artistic vision, there is a lot of hand dancing.
Hiding within some rough edges lies an energetic – maybe exhaustingly so – and often very funny take on hormonal teenage anxiety, with a winning central performance from Folan. It’s just clear that there is a far better production to be made from this material.
Photo: Matthew Crockett
Be More Chill is at The Other Palace from 19th February until 3rd May 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.