The high school characters in Be More Chill approach their angst and awkwardness with a mix of whip-smart—and sometimes crude—humor and earnest pleas for recognition and empathy.
The musical Be More Chill is nearing the end of rehearsals at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. The show is a co-production of the UH Hilo Performing Arts Center and the Hilo Community Players. The large cast features both university students and members of the community, including high school students.
Although Be More Chill is a story about high school, the musical is a long way from Footloose or Grease. A new musical, it premiered off-Broadway in 2018 after being adapted from Ned Vizzini’s 2004 novel of the same name. Rather than couching the trials and absurdities of teenaged life in double-entendres or trite one-liners, the characters in Be More Chill approach their angst and awkwardness with a mix of whip-smart—and sometimes crude—humor and earnest pleas for recognition and empathy.
This can be seen (and heard) in the lyrics to “More Than Survive,” a song from Be More Chill performed by lead character Jeremy and his best friend Michael along with the ensemble. Excerpt:
I’m waitin’ for my porno to load,
My brain is gonna freakin’ explode,
And now, of course, it’s time to hit the road,
Which means I’ll be uncomfortable all day!
But that really isn’t such a change,
If I’m not feelin’ weird or super strange,
My life would be in utter disarray,
‘Cos freekin’ out is my ok,
Good morning, time to start the day!
Now, should I take a bus or walk instead?
I feel my stomach fillin’ up with dread,
When I get nervous my whole face goes red,
Dude, weigh the options calmly and be still.
A junior on the bus is killer weak,
But if I walk, when I arrive I’m gonna straight up reek,
And my boxers will be bunchy and my pits will leak.
Ugh God, I wish I had the skill,
To just be fine and cool and chill!
I don’t wanna be a hero,
Just wanna stay in the line.
I’ll never be your Rob Deniro,
For me, Joe Pesci is fine.
And so, I follow my own rules,
And I use them as my tools,
To stay alive,
I don’t wanna be special, no, no,
I just wanna survive!
The protagonist Jeremy Heere, played in UH Hilo’s production by music student Chris Kocian, desperately longs to raise his social status and fit in with his peers. In order to accomplish this dream, he buys an ingestible supercomputer off the black market that promises to implant in his brain and alter his behavior in order to make him “more chill.”
The personified role of the computer, referred to as The SQUIP, is played by UH Hilo sophomore Ioane Boshard. Boshard, who has previously been involved in productions through Kamehameha Schools and the Hilo Palace Theater, is excited about the new challenge the role provides. The role is unusual, requiring Boshard to be emotionless even as he sings sweeping choruses and verbally abuses the protagonist.
“[The show] is very modern, it’s very new,” says Boshard. “Writing something new for theater is almost like coming up with a new solution for a new problem. [The role] has been challenging, but I love a challenge.”
Show costumer Lee Dombroski, whose day job is manager of the UH Hilo Performing Arts Center, speaks to the experience of costuming a contemporary show like Be More Chill.
“With modern shows, the thought about them is not much actual design and really specific choices go into them because it’s what we wear every day,” she says. “But you have to look at the big picture, you have to make the stage look good…it’s trying to mix color and pattern and texture to make the overall whole interesting to look at.”
The opportunity the modern nature of the show presents is not lost on the actors.
Mia McGrath, a UH Hilo psychology major playing popular girl Brooke, is enthusiastic about the experience Be More Chill is providing her.
“It’s been such an exciting, valuable experience,” says McGrath. “It’s been really excellent to work with other college-aged students but also with a lot of high school students. The fact that the play is set in high school—and honestly, I listened to it in high school when I was feeling similar emotions—and the fact that I’m here now in college, getting to look back on it, and being able to encourage a lot of the highschoolers that I’m working with, it’s been a blast, and I’ve honestly gained a lot of self-confidence.”
This theme of looking back on high school through the lens of the show is echoed by other members of the cast.
“This story, it’s so funny, it’s like something that all of us theater nerds and theater geeks have gone through, you know, feeling left out or feeling alone and learning that it’s okay to be weird,” says Boshard. “I would have loved to watch this show growing up.”
Psychology major Charles Jake Patris, who plays the role of jock Jake Dillinger, sees the value of the show in this way as well.
“Be More Chill is more or less a play about tackling social anxiety,” he says. “It’s surprisingly grounded for a sci-fi about taking a magical drug. I feel like this play has some things to say about following your own path in life. I feel like if I was still a kid in high school it would be something I would want to see.”
Dane Dupre, a performing arts major who plays the protagonist’s best friend Michael, speaks about participating in a show with a cast sourced both from the university and from the community, which was a first for him.
“The people are great, everyone in the cast is awesome,” he says. “Some of these people I go to college with, so I have these relationships with them already, meeting these new people I was able to make new relationships and see their aspects of it, instead of just my college perspective.”
The majority of the production team are UH Hilo alumnae:
- Director: Rachel Klein (Performing Arts)
- Music/Vocal Director: Rachel Edwards (Performing Arts)
- Choreographer: Nadia Schlosser (Nursing)
- Scenic/Lighting Designer: Ariana Bassett (Performing Arts)
- Technical Director: Apollo Harris (English)
- Stage Manager: Erin McClure (Performing Arts)
Be More Chill opens at the UH Hilo Performing Arts Center on Friday, April 21, 2023. The show runs six performances—evenings and a Sunday matinee—through Saturday, April 29. Tickets can be purchased online.
The author of this story, Evangeline Lemieux, is double majoring in English and medical anthropology at UH Hilo.
Photographer Cooper Lund is a marine science major.