The musical that was a tiny blip on the radar, with a small regional production at Two River Theater in New Jersey, flared into a grassroots hit—with audiences streaming the 2015 album so much the numbers could not be ignored. The production enjoyed an extended run Off-Broadway at New York’s Signature Center in anticipation of a Broadway transfer. But as much as young fans know about the show and its stars, Playbill managed to discover a few secrets during our opening night red carpet livestream from the afterparty at Gotham Hall.
“The main centerpiece is an instrument called a theremin, which has never been in a Broadway musical before,” said orchestrator and music supervisor Charlie Rosen. “The theremin was used to make all the sci-fi scores that we love. You play it only in the air. You play it simply by moving your arms around the magnetic pulse.”
Rosen collaborated with Iconis to find the perfect combination of sci-fi, ’80s pop, and punk rock when creating the sound for the show—even in its earliest days.
New for Broadway (and its Off-Broadway predecessor) was the look of Be More Chill, starting with the scenic design by Tony winner Beowulf Boritt (Act One). “I was hired very late in the game; I was hired about five weeks before we went into the theatre Off-Broadway,” said Boritt. But he made the most of his time. “It’s all a big computer screen is the idea,” said Boritt. “The set is trying to be the psychological landscape of his mind once he starts to go nuts after taking this pill, which is a computer. As it starts to take over his mind we see the insides of it.” Boritt also revealed that hidden in the set are three elephants. “When I was a kid I liked elephants and I've hidden elephants in my sets every since,” he said with a laugh.
Costume designer Bobby Frederick Tilley II, making his Broadway debut, revealed that his favorite costumes belong to the Squip. “There's a lot of very specific sci-fi references for nerds. The second Squip costume is a coat from Blade Runner which I've been obsessed about since I was a child.”
Iconis also paid homage to genre history in his work. The song "Smarphone Hour (Rich Set a Fire)” gets its name from a canonized musical. “Be More Chill is 100 percent a classic musical comedy. It's the same as Damn Yankees, in its intention,” said Iconis. “I wrote that song and I titled it that because I think it's really easy to look at our show and dismiss it and say it's a bunch of loud kids on their phones. But that's not what it is. I hope that in 20 years people will look at those two songs and be able draw comparisons to them and they have very similar titles, Be More Chill and Bye Bye Birdie.”
Dance captain Anthony Chatmon II and actor Jason Tam, who plays the Squip, taught us moves from Chase Brock’s original choreography. We also spoke with book writer Joe Tracz, vocal arranger Emily Mann, ensemblists Troy Iwata, Cameron Bond, Morgan Siobhan Green, and Joel Waggoner, as well as principals Jason SweetTooth Williams, Lauren Marcus, Tiffany Mann, Katlyn Carlson, Britton Smith, George Salazar, Stephanie Hsu, and Will Roland.
Watch the full livestream in the video above and check out all of the guests who walked the red carpet at the opening night celebration for Be More Chill on Broadway: