‘Be More Chill’ review: Sci-fi teen musical is sublimely silly, with a superb cast

Will Roland, front, in a scene from the Off-broadway show "Be More Chill." Photo Credit: Maria Baranova

The sublimely silly, exciting sci-fi teen musical comedy comes with an unlikely comeback story, powered by a passionate fan following.

Will Roland, front, in a scene from the Off-broadway show "Be More Chill."
Will Roland, front, in a scene from the Off-broadway show "Be More Chill." Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Be More Chill’ is playing an open run at the Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St., bemorechillmusical.com

Whether or not it ultimately proves to be a hit, “Be More Chill,” a sublimely silly, exciting sci-fi teen musical comedy deserves a place in Broadway history as an unlikely comeback story powered by a passionate fan following on social media.

Resembling a mishmash of “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Be More Chill” is based on a 2004 young adult novel by Ned Vizzini about a struggling high school student who attempts to win popularity by following the instructions of a “Squip” (a Japanese microcomputer installed into his brain). The show premiered in 2015 at New Jersey’s Two River Theater (with much of the Broadway cast) and promptly disappeared — until a cast album, preserving a pop-rock score by Joe Iconis that is both addictively catchy and a master class in post-Sondheim dramatic integration, revived interest in it.

Following a sold-out Off-Broadway run over the summer, “Be More Chill” has transferred to Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre, where it brings fresh air and youthful vitality into a season of new musicals that has primarily consisted of forgettable adaptations of movies and jukebox catalogs.

Directed by Stephen Brackett and choreographed by Chase Brock, the show’s weakest link is Joe Tracz’s book, which occasionally sputters and resorts to pandering, random twists and jokes that do not land. But on the whole, the production is both a supercharged piece of popular entertainment and a sincerely-felt portrait of vulnerable teens in an overwhelming environment of confusion and rejection.

The diverse, big-voiced cast is superb: Will Roland forcefully emphasizes the cluelessness of protagonist Jeremy, while Stephanie Hsu is adorably overpassionate as Jeremy’s love interest Christine. George Salazar stops the show cold as Jeremy’s pal Michael in a showstopping second act solo and Jason “SweetTooth” Williams ably handles multiple adult roles, including Jeremy’s pants-less father. And Jason Tam’s personification of the computerized Squip resembles a version of Keanu Reeves pulled equally from “The Matrix” and “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”

If you are on the fence about the show, I suggest listening to a few tracks of the cast album online. At the very least, you will instantly understand how “Be More Chill” earned the momentum that has brought it to Broadway four years after dying out in New Jersey.

Matt Windman