The path that brought Be More Chill, the neon, energetic, inventive new musical from Joe Iconis and Joe Tracz, to Broadway was unconventional in both its trajectory and its momentum. A 2015 commissioned world premiere at Two River Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey led to a cast album, which took the internet by storm and exponentially widened the musical’s audience; an Off-Broadway premiere at the Pershing Square Signature Center followed in 2018, quickly selling out and adding an extension to its run.
A few months later, producers gathered the company of the Off–Broadway production to deliver the news that changed everything. Not only was Be More Chill headed to Broadway—but the entire Off–Broadway cast would be going with it.
This cast would include performers like Will Roland and Jason SweetTooth Williams, who stepped into the roles of Jeremy Heere and his father, respectively, for the musical’s Pershing Square production; it also included George Salazar, Lauren Marcus, and Katlyn Carlson, who had been with the show since its premiere at Two River Theatre.
Now, as Be More Chill prepares for its final performance at the Lyceum Theatre on August 11, these five cast members have mined their personal stashes of behind-the-scenes photos for an exclusive look at the show’s journey from Red Bank to Broadway. Playbill posed a series of questions to each of them on the show’s legacy, both for the Broadway community and for themselves as artists who have seen the show along multiple stages of its journey to the Lyceum.
What message do you think Be More Chill will leave behind for Broadway?
Jason SweetTooth Williams: Be More Chill showed Broadway and the world that nothing is impossible. It showed it to me, as well. When people combine the power of their hearts, their collective love can move mountains (or send a little musical all the way to Broadway!)
Katlyn Carlson: This show has always felt like the little show that could. And that’s because young people grabbed onto it with so much love. We made it here because of our young fans. Broadway should welcome these young people with open arms. They have so much devotion to give to a show that loves them back the way Be More Chill does. They are the future of this industry. Listen to them; love them back.
Lauren Marcus: I hope that Be More Chill has let the Broadway community know that you don't have to be a "normal,” cookie-cutter actor, show, personality, body type—anything, really—in order to have a huge, insane impact on audiences. I am so proud of our show and its beautiful fans and treasure every time I hear one of them (child, teen, or adult) tell me that they've seen themselves in our show or found musical theatre for the first time ever through our show. Something about the uniqueness of the people involved--and clearly the intense connection to an album full of music and a story that felt new and relevant to them--really got into people's heads and stayed with them. And that's why we've made it here. Because people found Be More Chill and followed it in whatever way they could. I think we may be the first show to get to Broadway the way we did, but we certainly won't be the last.
George Salazar: I think our show will leave behind a beautiful legacy that involves art being a healing force, art inspiring art; that a good show that connects with real human beings can come back to life in spite of naysayers trying to keep it out, and that inclusive casting not only represents the landscape of our world, but has the power to inspire people who feel like outsiders to keep pursuing their dreams. There is a place for all of us and sometimes, you have to carve that place for yourself; but with a little help from good people, anything is possible.
Will Roland: I think Be More Chill has shown this industry that the voices of theatergoers matter more than perhaps previously thought! This show happened because people loved the story, the songs, the creators, the characters—not because it featured a super-famous movie star, or a pop song catalogue, or because it adapted their favorite movie. I think it also showed that there's more than one way to tell a story about serious issues in a musical.
What is your favorite memory from Be More Chill’s journey?
Williams: One of my favorite memories (there are thousands!) is watching Joe Iconis soak up the experience of our opening night right after he came out to bow. I looked at him and he was beaming, and he said, “This is insane!” It was maybe the happiest I’ve seen him. He deserves the world, and in that moment, he had it!
Carlson: Hearing from Jerry that we were going to Broadway, on stage at the Signature, was unforgettable. Everyone was circled up, sort of knowing it was coming, but hearing those words was such an explosion of emotion. People screamed, collapsed, wept, hugged, jumped up and down. My first thought was, “I’m so happy for Joe.” And then I thought, “Oh, I’m so happy for me, too!!” To find out I would be making my Broadway debut with this show, in a role I created, filled me with a joy and pride I can’t describe.
Marcus: I have so, so many...but I think the first preview Off-Broadway remains my favorite memory. It was really the first time seeing and hearing the physical manifestation of the fandom that had built up over the four years since the New Jersey production. And while seeing numbers online was cool, hearing excited, genuine laughter and cheers from our first audience for the show in years took my breath away and moved me to tears. I couldn't believe that so many strangers had found this thing and formed their own intense connection to it.
Salazar: I think my favorite moment happened during closing week. I was singing “Michael in the Bathroom” and for a moment I remembered singing it onstage at Two River; I blinked and then was back at the Lyceum, looking at an audience full of people wearing the “CREEPS” shirt. It was a perfect retrospective moment where I really wrapped my head around this show’s journey and the insane reach it has acquired.
Roland: The day that we announced the Off-Broadway run, the internet went nuts. So many people had been begging for this show to happen, and it felt like everything was possible and the world had expanded just ever so slightly.
What lessons will you take away from your time with the show?
Williams: I’ve learned that Broadway is as challenging as it is rewarding, and in fact, the reward is augmented by rising to and overcoming that challenge. I learned what it means to deepen a character over the course of a long run and what it means to really love inside a character or characters I helped create. I learned to rely on the strength and playfulness of my cast mates when I was down or tired and learned to give those things back to them when they needed it. I learned that there is no one sweeter, more dedicated, more passionate than a Be More Chill fan.
Marcus: This may sound cheesy, but I've learned that miracles can and do happen. And you never, ever know where they're going to come from. I've also learned that if you're going to do a show on Broadway that is that physically intense, you must learn how to take care of your body. I sprained my ankle badly Off-Broadway and was out for three weeks (my first time missing any show); it was devastating at the time, and now I look at it as maybe one of the best things to ever happen to me. What a lesson!
Salazar: Never stop believing in the projects that you love.
Roland: I have been reminded of how much theatre means to people, especially to people who sometimes feel marginalized, ostracized, or disconnected from their communities. It's another way to connect people, another way for us to come together and share the best parts of ourselves and see our stories reflected in new and exciting ways. For so many people, Be More Chill is the closest they've ever come to seeing themselves on a stage.
How has your character changed throughout the show’s journey? How have you changed?
Carlson: In the Broadway production, I got to dig into the teenage frustration and exhaustion of not being seen the way you want to be seen, of not knowing yet who you really are, or want to be. Playing with the extremity of emotion and wild mood swings I remember from my high school years, she crystallized into the sharpest, meanest, messiest, funniest version of Chloe.
I now know I’ve been given a gift that I can carry with me forever- the gift of being part of something that means so much to so many people. I never expected something like it. To feel the impact that it’s had is like a rare, precious jewel in the crown of one’s career. I wear it with pride.
Salazar: Michael Mell within the context of the play has become more nuanced and fleshed out. He feels like a real person; I lose myself every night and it feels good to lose myself to a character who possesses such unfiltered joy, forgiveness, and commitment. Michael Mell outside of the play has become this beacon of support to so many who see themselves in him. He’s become a sort of a role model and I couldn’t be prouder to have been a part of the creation of a person who means so much to so many. Being a part of something like that would undoubtedly affect a person and I’m thrilled that I’ve been changed by this character, this play, our fans, and this whole experience. I’ve become a more compassionate human, a better listener, and a better friend because of Michael. I could quote Wicked right now (and I think you know which song), but I always cry when I quote that song.
Roland: I think the biggest thing that has changed over time with Jeremy is how dynamic he is. Throughout our process we endeavored to see this boy go through the biggest possible transformation from being totally bottled up in the beginning, totally posturing and posing in the middle, and truly embracing his inner weirdness by the end. It challenged me as an actor to push as far away from my normal inclinations as possible. I still have to get myself in the right headspace pre-show and shut down a lot of things I like about myself in order to fully inhabit this boy at the beginning of his story. It's the greatest gift I've ever been given.
Marcus: Brooke's grown a bit in that we've really honed in on her insecurity as the beta to Chloe's alpha, and I think we really understand her connection to Jeremy this time around. I think her heart (as well as mine) has grown about five times bigger. She's not a mean girl; she's a sweet, insecure girl looking for a sign that she's just . . . good enough. Similarly, I've changed in that I'm starting to believe I'm good enough exactly the way I am. For this business, as an actor, body-wise, as a person.
We tell ourselves so, so many stories about who we are, and hear so many comments from people in the industry and online; and like the show reminds us in the closing number, "There might be voices in my head, but the loudest one is mine." And you know what? That's the one I can actually control, to some degree. And it's the one that matters the most. So why not let that one be a nice one?