You may remember James Corden, Sara Bareilles, and Josh Groban singing a parody of the song “Michael in the Bathroom” a few weeks ago on the Tony Awards network television show. The stars sang of their crippling insecurities while hiding in bathroom stalls. For some viewers, the song may have been unfamiliar. For others, the song was well known. It was from the viral musical Be More Chill.
Be More Chill may still be running on Broadway, but DMV audiences will have the opportunity to see the first professional production in the area thanks to the foresight of Monumental Theatre. Monumental is the 2018 recipient of the theatreWashington John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company.
With a clear vision, Monumental secured the rights to Be More Chill and announced it as a production on September 8, 2018. This was before Be More Chill had Broadway previews, and even before the Off-Broadway production closed its short run on September 30, 2018. Be More Chill had its musical premiered in May 2015 at the Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey. The musical was commissioned by Two River as part of their new play development program.
Based on the 2004 novel by the late Ned Vizzini, the musical Be More Chill has its book by Joe Tracz with about two dozen musical numbers by Joe Iconis. The musical follows a nerdy high school loner named Jeremy, played by Ben Ribler. Jeremy ingests a supercomputer pill called a “SQUIP.” He wants to become cool and popular. Jeremy’s best friend is Michael, played by Christian Montgomery. Jeremy’s love interest is Christine, played by Monumental newcomer Jyline Carranza. The “SQUIP” will be played by Caroline Dubberly.
In addition to mounting the first professional production of the show in the DC area, Monumental Theatre is employing an all-female design team.
“We’re really trying to dig deep and get to the heart of the musical,” said Izzy Smelkinson, who directs. “While at first glance it seems like Jeremy is the only one searching for how to fit in, in truth, every character is struggling to find out how to accept themselves as they really are, not who they wish to be.” The associate director is Megan Bunn, the music director is Marika Countouris, and the choreographer is Patricia “Pep” Targete.
My edited interviews with Ben Ribler, who plays Jeremy, and Jyline Carranza, who portrays Christine, follow:
David Siegel: For those who may not have heard about Be More Chill, how would you describe the musical?
Ben Ribler: Be More Chill is, on the surface, a goofy, hilarious, heartfelt musical about being cool in high school, with some catchy tunes and spooky but tongue-in-cheek sci-fi theming. But beyond that, it’s also a coming-of-age story and a story with themes and allegories of drug abuse and emotional abuse and toxic relationships and struggles with mental illness I think a lot of people, especially young people, can find especially illuminating, portrayed onstage in an emotionally honest but approachable and even fun kind of way. It’s a show that I think different people are going to get different things out of.
Jyline Carranza: Be More Chill is a musical about high schoolers wanting to fit in and be cool, which is something we have all experienced in some way. It teaches you that being cool isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, you’ll get more happiness by being true to yourself. Which is why the musical has been a huge Internet sensation! Many people have been able to relate to different aspects of the show. Hopefully our audiences will feel the same!
David: How do you make the character you portray your own?
Ben: I think I see a lot of my younger self in Jeremy, especially from when I was in middle and high school, and so it’s been fascinating to compare experiences with him. Perhaps partly because of this, I’ve been able to view him sympathetically even in his cruelest and most emotionally detached moments, and I hope to carry the same earnestness and humanity through his darkness that is there during the rest of the show.
Jyline: I believe that in order to make any character come to life off the page, you have to discover what is similar between the character and the actor. I found that Christine reminded me a lot of myself as a child. I am not saying that Christine acts like a child, but she has a childlike spirit. As a child, I always had a willingness to learn, unquenchable curiosity, and loved with no shame. I try to capture these traits with Christine throughout the show, because she is one of the few characters that brings us back to reality.
David: Are there particular lyrics that you sing that deeply resonate with you?
Ben: Jeremy is a character who is very easily affected by the people around him. He seems to constantly compare himself to them. At the top he wishes he “had the skill to just be fine and cool and chill” to later on ramping that up as he wants to be “chill as life would allow” to eventually realizing that his insecurities “scream and shout” but he “tunes them out” and makes up his own mind. This show is the story of finding his own voice and his own place…to have something to be passionate about. It takes him the entire course of the show to really feel comfortable with that.
Jyline: “I don’t always relate to other people my age, except when I’m on the stage. There are so many changes that I’m going through.” These lyrics in “A Guy That I’d Kinda Be Into” resonate with me when I am playing Christine. She is still discovering herself in the world, especially in high school, and theatre has made it bearable for her. Theatre is Christine’s “safe haven.” It is a place she can go to and not feel so alone or different. That is why Jeremy likes Christine so much, because he sees her love for something other than just trying to “fit in.”
David: What else would you like DC Theater Arts readers to know about Be More Chill?
Ben: From the fans who have been streaming the original cast recording on Tumblr to curious theatergoing audiences who have never heard of the show before, I think there is going to be something in it for everyone. Be More Chill is a unique, fun, one-of-a-kind show.
Jyline: I love the honesty of the character Christine. She is one of the few characters in the show that does not care about being “cool.” I wanted to play a character that could teach the audience about what it means to love the person you are, and love the things you love.
Be More Chill, presented by Monumental Theatre Company, runs from July 11-29, 2019, at the Ainslie Arts Center on the campus of Episcopal High School, 3900 West Braddock Road, Alexandria, Virginia 22304. Purchase tickets online.