This above all, to thine own self be true. It’s not a line which actually appears in Be More Chill, the US import which has just opened at The Other Palace, but it neatly sums up the plot of this high-energy, high concept, teen-angst musical by Joes Tracz and Iconis, based on the ‘young adult’ novel from the late Ned Vizzini.
It’s taken an interesting five-year route from first performance to Victoria, encompassing New Jersey, a two-year hiatus, off-Broadway, Broadway, a legion of fans, and over 350 million streams online. It’s something of a phenomenon. But, is it any good?
Well, much though I’m rather surprised to be saying this…yes. I had a whale of a time. OK, it’s not Pinter, but then who’d want it to be? It’s fun, irreverent, full of energy, and made me beam from ear to ear.
It deals with the nerdy teenager Jeremy Heere (Scott Folan) whose life revolves around watching porn, and playing computer games with his best friend, Michael Mell (Blake Patrick Anderson).
Jeremy’s one of the kids in school who always gets picked on for one thing or another, and all round cool guy, and school bully, Rich Goranski (James Hameed) wastes no time in doing so.
When Jeremy sees and instantly falls for a girl in the drama club, Christine Canigula (Miracle Chance) he believes that he hasn’t got a hope of becoming her friend until, when Rich has a bit of a meltdown, he lets him into a secret… Rich has taken quantum nano computer which is in his brain and tells him what to do and act in order to be cool, a Squip.
Bypassing Rich’s offer to get one for him, Jeremy secures his own direct from the source, improbably a man in a discount shoe shop, and takes it.
As soon as The Squip is activated Jeremy is under the control of The Squip (Stewart Clarke) and although he is indeed becoming more successful and popular, it’s at the expense of his friendship with Michael.
Fun and games ensue, and Jeremy ends up helping The Squip on its bid for world domination, but luckily the easygoing Michael saves the day, the friendship, and the world.
Iconis’ score is more or less through-composed, and there’s no ‘song list’ in the programme, but the Act Two ‘Michael in the Bathroom’ sung by Blake Patrick Anderson whilst at a party to which he hasn’t been invited is the take away number from the show, and deservedly so, and is performed with huge charm and vulnerability.
I think I should also give a shout-out too to Christopher Fry, who’s very much the adult in the cast, playing everyone from Jeremy’s dad – with and without trousers – to the school’s head of drama.
Overall it’s a nice construct, and is told with gusto, and full of the angst and hormones that do their best to wreck us as teenagers. The action is helped along by some very clever graphics on the rear wall from Beowulf Borritt evoking everything from The Matrix to a burning house, via banks of lockers in outline, and just about every other area of the school in which a lot of the action takes place.
Although the other palace seems to be just about the right size for the show, it’s hard to envisage where it might end up afterwards, which is a shame. It’s a lot of fun, and heaven knows, we could do with more of that in the world right now.
- Music & Lyrics: Joe Iconis
- Book: Joe Tracz
- Director: Stephen Brackett
- Photo credit: Matthew Crockett
- Cast includes: Blake Patrick Anderson, Miracle Chance, Stewart Clarke, Eloise Davies, Scott Folan, Christopher Fry, James Hameed, Renee Lamb, Millie O’Connell, Miles Paloma & alternates
- The Other Palace
- UNTIL 14 JUNE 2020
- Running time: 2hrs 30 (including one 15 min interval)