A buzz of excitement greeted me in the Subiaco Arts Centre foyer prior to my viewing of the musical, Be More Chill, produced by local company, Phoenix Theatre. Clearly a popular show with the youth demographic, this production was a frank but satirical portrayal of life as an emotionally-maturing teenager.
The show opened with the lead, Jeremy Heere (Charlie Darlington), sitting at his laptop, with his pants at his ankles. His number immediately threw the audience into the show’s more trivial themes, presenting us with the stereotype of a young, virgin-outcast male. As the show progressed, other high school archetypes were introduced, forming the crux of the plotline and collectively instilling social anxiety in our lead.
In an unexpected confession, the school bully, Rich (Aaron O’Neill), admitted to Jeremy that he also used to be a loser, until he bought and ingested a SQUIP – Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor. With the promise of breaking free of his overthinking awkwardness to become the best version of himself, Jeremy purchased the capsule-computer, leading to a range of new interactions and a predictable malfunction.
Adapted from a book, Be More Chill was an overly complex story that could be great if its characters where given the chance to develop. Jeremy’s father, for example, was too unbelievable, and I was unmoved by him – although the actor’s stage presence and funny solo number was awesome. The plot drove the musical along well, but prioritised complicated settings and costume changes over addressing the real and important themes through its characters.
There were obvious issues regarding the transfer of this production to a new performance space, and these rendered themselves in some of the blocking and design. Originally performed at their resident stage in Hamilton Hill, the company faced a challenge in adapting 2 hours’ worth of content for a small corner-stage. Most of the blocking was designed for a front facing stage, and having sat to the side, I missed some of the humorous physical theatre. However, I did get a good view of the auditorium entrance, which was used regularly and well.
Certainly, there is a lot going on in this story: from high-school angst and pharmaceutical drug abuse, to artificial intelligence and identity politics. Regardless, the skilled cast managed this demanding book extremely well. They are all very much talents to watch, especially Peter Ho, who played Jeremy’s best friend Michael, and nailed his solo despite a faulty microphone.
Be More Chill offers a thoughtful subversion of our modern culture of consumer-led anxiety and the pressures of ‘fitting in’, highlighting the power of the individual experience. This adaptation was probably overly-ambitious to mount on an obviously small budget, and therefore lacked the polish that it required. In saying that, it was opening night- a few issues are to be expected – and the performers make this production worthwhile. I’m sure any issues will be ironed out when you see Be More Chill this weekend.
Tickets available here.
Words by Molly Werner