Agents, managers, and casting directors always told actor George Salazar he was “the best friend type.” And Salazar always thought, “‘I’d like to think that I can do other things,’” he recalls. “Then Joe [Iconis] came around and, admittedly, the best friend is often Joe’s favorite character to write for. There’s this love and care and focus that he puts on a best friend character.”
In no show is that more apparent than Iconis’ Broadway debut Be More Chill, directed by Stephen Brackett, which begins performances at the Lyceum Theatre February 13 after an extended sold-out run at Off-Broadway’s Signature Center.
Salazar plays Michael, best friend to Jeremy (Will Roland), whose quest for popularity and the girl of his dreams leads him to swallow a computer chip to “be more chill.” Unlike Jeremy, Michael is a misfit and happy to be one; Salazar imbues Michael with calibrated quirkiness and confidence. “I wanted to create a person who is unabashedly weird and who’s proud of the things that make him so different,” he says.
“This guy’s entrance is reggae music; he’s talking about being stoned,” Salazar points out. “My whole goal with that guy was that he’s gotta be the coolest kid at school and no one else knows it. I also wanted him to be the best friend that we all wish we had, slash the best friend we all wish we could be.”
Perhaps it’s that combination of outsider status, security, and aspirational friendship that struck a chord with the teen theatregoers who mob the stage door nightly. “This character really resonates with young people,” says Salazar. “If I had someone like that as a high schooler or middle schooler growing up, it would have made my journey so much easier.”
No doubt their clamoring also has a little something to do with Michael’s Act 2 showstopper “Michael in the Bathroom,” Gen Z’s new anthem with over 2.2 million YouTube hits. The song sees Michael, after being ditched by Jeremy, breaking down “in the bathroom at a party.”
Pushed to the emotional brink, Salazar belts through sobs night after night. “It really does feel—on the inside—that I am going through a little bit of an anxiety attack every night,” he confesses. Despite the emotion and vocal challenge (Salazar is the one who asked for the higher key in an early workshop), or perhaps because of it, “I truly never get tired of singing that song,” Salazar says. “I can’t wait to be on the Playbill cruise through the Danube River with Joe Iconis in our 90s singing ‘Michael in the Bathroom’—in the lower key.
“The song changed my life, this show changed my life, this character changed my life,” he says. “I would love to be in Be More Chill until someone rolls me out in a wheelchair. Like, ‘OK. You actually can’t do this anymore.’”