Budding Entertainment’s BE MORE CHILL: A Canberra theatre review
A reflection on modern adolescence issues mixed with sci-fi and then ramped up by ten. That is Be More Chill in a nutshell.
The hit show that worked its way through Broadway and London Theatres, had now come to Canberra through local theatre company, Budding Entertainment. From the 24th-27th of March, the musical production of Be More Chill was shown at Gungahlin College Theatre with two sets of casts performing on alternating times, the RED and GREEN cast. I was fortunate enough to attend the last performance of the RED cast on the 27th, so here’s my take on it.
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Adapted from the novel by Ned Vizzini, Be More Chill is a story about teenager Jeremy and his quest to overcome his anxieties of ‘being uncool’ and win over the girl of his dreams (Christine) by eating a micro-supercomputer (disguised as a pill) called ‘The Squip’.
‘The Squip’, who is represented physically as a person, guides Jeremy on every aspect of his life and soon starts to take control of him and his peers (that also end up taking it too). It tackles sensitive themes such as depression, anxiety, loneliness and the struggles of finding yourself but in a more dark humour, theatrical way.
Interestingly enough, I discovered a lot of people haven’t heard of the show beforehand. It seems to be one of those shows that had a massive cult following in America and the UK but hadn’t quite reached Australia yet. Which made it more interesting to see the audience’s reactions to the show and judging by the amount of people cheering and clapping along to the songs by the end of the night, it seemed to be a success.
The songs were packed with punchy and well-timed lyrics with every beat needing to be accounted for by the performers which was well executed by the cast. This showed to be quite obvious when you would hear whooping and cheering from the crowd every time someone made a breathless effort to belt out a note. Also designed to match the fast-paced music, was the choreography. With every note, there was a movement to match it. For such a high speed musical, the cast maintained an impressive and consistent energetic pace throughout the entire show which was one of my highlights.
The standout performance in the show was definitely the song “Micheal in the Bathroom,” where the character expresses his insecurities of being alone and unseen by his own best friend (Jeremy) and classmates. This song really addresses those key themes of depression and anxiety in a more serious light. Mental health, throughout most of the show, was presented in the form of humour and light-heartedness. I found this quite conflicting as there’s a fine line between presenting mental health in a lighter context and using mental health as a joke.
The song “I Love Play Rehearsal” by Jeremy’s love interest, Christine, is a prime example of this:
“I love play rehearsal
Because it’s the best!
Because it is fun
I love play rehearsal
And I get depressed as soon as it’s done
But I’m not depressed as in like kill yourself depressed
No, I’m not into self-harm
Dude, I swear, here check my arm!”
Going off this, I’ve noticed the plot was quite unrealistic and some of the dialogue and songs were a bit awkward and makes you want to cringe but as for the performance itself, it was very well done.
At the end of the performance, the cast piled into the foyer for photos with everyone. There’s something quite touching about seeing a group of people that have poured their heart and soul into a show come together and take those final photos and say their goodbyes to everyone before heading away. I see it as a reflection to the dedication and hard work they’ve put in the months leading up to the show.
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Overall, Be More Chill the musical is one that is semi-reflective of the struggles of teenage life despite the unrealistic plot-line of swallowing a micro super-computer to help make you “be more chill” and the controversial depiction of mental health. It’s a story about the hardships of growing up and finding yourself but through it all, we shouldn’t have to change ourselves to achieve that and the Budding Entertainment production did a fantastic job at portraying this.