‘Be More Chill’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by May 17, 2018

‘Be More Chill’ is a musical, based on a 2004 book written by Edison Price ‘Ned’ Vizzini, when he was only 23 yrs. old. He was known as a New York author of teenage literature. The musical score was added by Joe Tracz, and the lyrics by Joe Iconis.

This 150-minute, high energy, adult musical with many controversial themes, premiered in 2015.

Although being a literary award winner, Ned struggled with severe clinical depression, and died aged 32, by jumping off the roof of his parents’ home.

This joint musical production from the BMC Production Team and Phoenix Theatre Inc is being presented at the Memorial Hall, 435 Carrington Street, in Hamilton Hill. The season runs between Friday 18th May and Saturday 2nd June with all shows at 8.00 pm with a Sunday matinee at 2.00 pm.

 

The scene: is story is set 10 years in the future.

The set: was a simple long thin, black flat, mid rear stage, which covered the break in the rear white wall, thus allowing actors to have a central entrance. The set may have been simple, but there were many props ranging from a double bed, to a urinal, and a bath to a living room. These props were installed and removed almost as magic, with the cast members grabbing a piece as they exited the stage. Even the large blocks of school lockers just seemed to appear. This highly efficient stage management was in the capable hands of Maddy Mullins.

Krispin Maesalu’s sparkling lighting design was smoothly operated by Lauren Beeton. Ben Albert was in charge of the headsets, sound effects and general soundscape.

 

     Jeremy Heere (Charlie Darlington) is a lonely lad. His mother has left home, and his depressed father (Andrew Dawson) spends most of his day in his underwear. Jeremy is a bullied loser, especially by Rich (Aaron O’Neil), and so the girls have no interest in him.

     He has a crush on the class’s intellectual, Christine (Dylan Dorotich), whose boyfriend is low IQ Jake Dillinger (Jarvys McQueen-Mason) the school’s love object – in his own mind. Unknown to Christine, Jake is two-timing her at the party.    

     Music-loving Michael (Peter Ho), who wears headphones all day, is Jeremy’s lifelong best friend. Michael tells Jeremy about a ‘SQUIP’ (a Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor), which is a supercomputer in the form of a pill. When swallowed with Mountain Dew it will make him become ‘cool and popular’. So, using his Bar mitzvah money, Jeremy secretly buys a Squip from a Scary Stockboy (Milo Watson), and is instantly one of the most popular teenagers at the school. The pill has an invisible advisor (Joshua Towns) who feed Jeremy information and hints as he approaches Christine, but it is blonde Chloe (Shannon Rogers)  who is desperate to gain his attention.

     The drama teacher, Mr. Reyes (Pat McMahon), is putting on a school play based on a Shakespeare play, renamed ‘A Midsummer Nightmare About Zombies’ with a blend of apocalyptic future! Christine signs up for an audition. Sitting near the group of friends is stylish school gossip, Jenna Rolan (Tegan Joyce), and Jeremy overhears information about Christine and himself.

   At a party Jeremy has ‘sexually active’ Brooke (Stephanie Beckham) chasing after him. Poor Michael is upset, not knowing why Jeremy no longer speaks to him.

   Will the SQUIP bring happiness or misery to the friends?

 

The band of musicians, under the musical director Krispin Maesalu, includes Jake ‘Sislac’ Isard on hybrid drums, Meg Vicensoni who is on 5-string bass guitars – yes two, is joined by Chris Johnston on several electrical and acoustic guitars. The keyboards, which were mainly used for sound effects and mood music, were played by Aidan Bridges and Krispin Maesalu. The brass and woodwind section included unusual instruments rarely found in smaller bands, these were baritone and tenor saxophone (Krispin); a special kind of flügel horn, trumpet and the fun Moog Theremin (as seen in the recent Ben Elton’s film ‘Three Summers’) were all played by Emma Mondy.

The well-crafted, imaginative musical score was a blend of eerie horror and space themes. This score was completely different to anything I have heard in a stage musical before; it was exciting, threatening and at times cacophonous, but completely fascinating. The cast reacted magnificently to the quirks in the tempo and the unusual orchestration.

Director Ben Albert has gathered the cream of performers from WAAPA, Curtin and Murdoch to help him in this inventive and challenging production.

The choreography styles were numerous and included robotics, semi ballet and even a rotating Busby Berkeley wheel, all were designed by Shannon Rogers. In one scene, Shannon had Michael and Jeremy on office desk chairs doing quite a difficult ‘dance’ procedure. Krispin Maesalu added a marching routine and the director, Ben Albert, produced a hand manipulation sequence.

Charlie Darlington has been thrown down the gauntlet in several productions in the past, but the characterisation, movement and singing for this show has really tested him to the full; the result was most impressive. A name to watch out for in the future.

In a bathroom scene, Peter Ho (Michael) had quite a long vocal solo, which he delivered superbly and with heaps of emotion. Aaron O’Neil gave a belting rendition of his energetic piece. Josh Towns who was the mysterious Pill gets better with every production. The three girls have proved themselves over several productions, and were delightful and impressive in this show.

The costumes were ‘cool’, with the occasional fun outfit such as the Halloween costumes.

Every actor was very well rehearsed, and even after a couple of hours of fast moving performance, the pace and delivery were still vivacious.

This is a fast moving fun show, definitely aimed at 15 – 25 yrs. old but with the powerful vibrant singing, and energetic delivery, most adults will enjoy it too.