quinox Theater’s Be More Chill —
now playing at The Bug Theatre — is a joyous musical romp that takes you in a hundred directions and keeps you laughing. You won’t leave the theater in a somber mood.
The story is a silly construct about a supercomputer in pill form, called a “Squip,” that gives you the ability to increase your popularity (hence the title Be More Chill). Set in high school, the story revolves around the usual teen drama of geeks and cool kids, popularity, loyalty, and love — with much of the action happening in song and dance.
And that’s what makes it special: The Denver cast harmonizes wonderfully together and takes the stage with the exuberance and energy of actual high school students.
The description of the play gives the impression this is some kind of sci-fi farce, but this is not a musical “Star Trek” – it’s closer to a fresh, modern take on “Grease.” The story moves along quickly, setting up the plot in short order so the focus can remain on the songs — where it belongs. The entire cast has strong voices, so whether they’re singing solo or as a group, it’s a joy to watch and listen.
Cody Schmitt, who plays main character Jeremy, is in nearly every scene and does a strong job of bringing meaning to his struggles trying to fit in and find love in high school. The songs alternate between funny and heartfelt. One standout song was an emotional “Michael In The Bathroom” sung by Andrew Alber. It was so good the audience literally cheered.
Director Colin Roybal and music director Adam White have clearly worked with the cast to ensure the audience understands every word to the songs as they are sung – which is great because the lyrics are very funny. And the choreography is excellent and well-rehearsed. This cast has some great moves, especially Solveig Swanson, —a standout as Brooke, the second-most popular girl in school. Swanson plays Brooke with a physical humor that has the audience on the verge of laughter even before she delivers her lines. She’s great.
I didn’t know much about “Be More Chill” going in. I found myself thinking, “This is like the greatest high school musical ever, played by the most outstanding and amazing cast of high school actors ever assembled.” I think that’s a fair assessment. It’s based on a 2004 young adult novel by Ned Vizzini, which included some of his own experiences from high school. It’s appropriate for high schoolers as well as adults. In fact, the website of the Broadway musical features a study guide for students to talk about the themes of the story as they authentically relate to the high school experience.
The Equinox Theatre’s production may not have the glitz and glamour of Broadway, but all the essential elements are there. The two-level stage works great, especially when The Squip — played by the ultracool Derek Helsing — voices the life-changing instructions he gives to the central characters from the upper deck. And the live band brings the songs to life professionally – way better than a recorded track.
The house was packed when I saw the musical – nearly every seat was full, and there were huge smiles on every face. If you’re up for an evening of laughter, silliness, and music, you’ll enjoy Be More Chill.