Wednesday, 7 July 2021

REVIEW: Be More Chill at the Shaftesbury Theatre

Full of your stereotypical American high school students, a pulsing soundtrack, and a Japanese supercomputer that embeds itself inside people brains, Be More Chill has an air of familiarity but with an original twist. As we follow the nerdy Jeremy (Scott Folan) on his journey to become cool, the show tackles bullying, self-perception, and world domination by a SQUIP. It makes much more sense in context! 

Folan takes the lead role and tackles it well. He made fantastic acting decisions throughout, particularly in musical numbers. Blake Patrick Anderson is the standout performance of the evening for me. His voice and tone are beautiful, and during act 2 I leaned over to my friend and whispered something that I feel sums up his performance: “Every time Blake opens his mouth I get goosebumps”. This is the West-End debut for Anderson, and he is certainly a performer to watch as his career soars to great heights very soon. This pairing of young actors is a real triumph. Not only is the on-stage relationship between Folan and Anderson heartwarming, but they bounce off of each other with an energy that keeps their scenes racing along. 

Stewart Clarke played the supercomputer, channelling his inner Keanu Reeves (with the help of costume design by Bobby Frederick Tilley II) and brought a powerful stage presence and voice to the casting. The rest of the cast of Miracle Chance, Eloise Davies, Christopher Fry, James Hameed, RenĂ©e Lamb, Millie O’Connell, and Miles Paloma, brought an excited energy and power to the stage, embodying archetypal characters and giving them life. 

The scenic design incorporates staggered white proscenium arches which complement the neon styling of the show. The rest of the set is minimal, utilising not much more than a few tables and chairs. What paints the scenes instead is a Hughe projection wall filling the back of the stage. The video design, by Alex Basco Koch, works far better than I expected. It has a distinct language that pairs wonderfully with the on-stage performance, and details scenes brilliantly, without encroaching on the performance space or detracting from the actors on stage. 

It’s not often you get to hear a theremin played live in a west-end theatre, but Be More Chill is an exception to the rule! Orchestrator Charlie Rosen and the musicals composer, Joe Iconis, have worked hard to create a soundtrack full of earworms. However, some of the songs felt drawn out, which may have been down to the way many of the songs incorporated what felt like three or four different melodies and themes in a single-song structure. This made it difficult at points to follow the story in the songs, so I wanted more straight dialogue from Joe Tracz’s book. Louisa Green’s musical direction is on-point, but there were times when the sound mix wasn’t quite right for me; I wanted to feel the baseline pumping through my chest! 

All in all, Be More Chill is a musical that doesn’t take itself too seriously. With comedy and heartfelt emotion in abundance, you are guaranteed to have a great evening at the theatre.

Review by Max Topliss

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Q11 (stalls) | Price of Ticket: £49.50
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