Be More Chill at Shaftesbury Theatre
At first glance, one might wonder why this musical even exists. It’s the same old high school story audiences have seen thousands of times since the early 80s: a nerdy outsider finds a way to become popular, doesn’t enjoy it, and finally learns some lesson from it. The difference in Be More Chill is that the popularising miracle is a pill with a microchip that implants itself into geek Jeremy’s (Scott Folan) brain, which switches on an AI – the Squip (Stewart Clarke) – that constantly tells him how to behave to be “cool”.
This may sound different and odd enough, but prospective theatregoers should not be fooled. The first act and a half are entirely about the usual teenage angst, done again and again and including every stereotype in the book, from the aforementioned geek to stock bully Rich (James Hameed) to the popular jock Jake (Miles Paloma). The only real difference is in the last half hour, when the writers don’t know how to end things and suddenly shoehorn further mind-control issues into the mix. It’s all very rushed and forced in the end, which is odd considering some of the songs add nothing to the show beyond “this character hasn’t had a solo yet”.
In terms of writing, there is a lot to dislike. The character motivations are confused, as are the take-away messages, and there is little character development. The lyrics are largely forgettable, and the music, while there is the odd good number, is largely very standard material – not awful, but not memorable.
The one saving grace of this performance is the production and the fact that it features a solid cast. Each actor gives their best; they are clearly enjoying themselves and manage to display their roles as enjoyably as possible to turn a mean musical into a somewhat reasonable experience. Director Stephen Brackett, too, delivers, making everything look amazing with the help of set designer Beowulf Boritt and choreographer Chase Brock. While the musical doesn’t offer much, the cast and creatives make the audience feel like they are watching a high-quality West End show. Given any other material, this would have been a fantastic experience. As it stands, it is just yet another high school musical, and not a particularly memorable one at that.
Be More Chill is at Shaftesbury Theatre from 30th June until 5th September 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.