Be More Chill is one of those 'cool Off Broadway shows' that people like to choose songs from to use in auditions so they can look 'cool' because it's 'cool' to pick songs that panels don't know. It focuses around a high school kid named Jeremy and his bestie Michael who are basically the nerdy outcasts of their year. Jeremy buddies up with Rich, the school jock, who sells him a micro-supercomputer that you can swallow and will help you 'Be More Chill'. There's a love interest, a school play of A Midsummer Night's Dream - Zombified, a Halloween party, a father who doesn't understand his son, and a whole lotta teen bitchin'.
Lightbox Productions have pulled together a pretty great cast for this show. Dylan Mazuerk, Luke Martin and Madeline Connoly are perfect casting as the nerdy Jeremy and Michael, and the drama-nerd Christine. Connoly's performance of 'I Love Play Rehearsal' is an absolute highlight of the show. Filled with humour, clumsiness, hyperactivity and a dash of dork, the very young Connoly is destined for some great roles in future. Mazurek and Martin both present really well developed characters. Both have very defined physical quirks and their comedic timing is on point - props to both the actors and the show's director Jared Smith.
Other cast highlights include Jessica Matthewes and Kirsten Manuel as the ditzy cheerleader-types Brooke Lohst and Chloe Valentine, and Melanie Verhagen who's powerhouse voice steals the show in Act Two as the school gossip Jenna Rolan. Caitlin Stewart is a total comedic highlight as the teacher Mrs Reyes.
Choreography by Emma James is creative and interesting. James really knows how to work a small space. Her choreography is for the most part varied in direction, spacing and movement and pulls away from the typical 'small-theatre-everybody-does-the-same-thing' schtick. Direction by Jared Smith is clear and stylised.
What really lets this production down is the technical elements and musical direction. Actors are often singing out of key or SCREAMING their way through songs that out of their range by miles ('Michael in the Bathroom' is a very, very painful experience). The sound design is abhorrent. From the opening number, the band (particularly the drums) are blasting so loud that you physically cannot hear the actors screeching their way through the songs to be heard. I blame part of the reason actors are not singing in tune on the fact that I literally don't think even they can hear themselves on stage let alone the audience out front. There were many times that I physically jumped in my seat in shock when people spoke because they microphones were so loud that they were practically peaking. It's a small theatre, there is absolutely no need for levels to be that high.
The lighting design is not much better than the sound. This company has spent quite a bit on getting in a flashy lighting rig (no pun intended). Whether it was the Stage Manager missing LX cues, or the Lighting Operator was asleep, cues were often late or missed entirely - creating awkward buttons at the end of songs where we'd see one or two extra lighting states before an eventual blackout. The money spent on lighting would have been much better spent on getting a decent sound team.
Technical elements aside (which unfortunately really do destroy the overall experience of this production), the cast and creative team have done a great job on making the most of a small theatre space and bringing this show to life. It's funny, it's catchy, the characters are relatable, it's visually engaging and from what you can hear - when they're not screaming, they sound pretty good.
Congratulations to Lightbox Productions on their sold out premiere season of the Victorian Premiere production of Be More Chill.
Photo Credit: Rob Baselier