North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre’s mission includes bringing “a unique perspective to the theatre community by producing provocative, challenging, and inspirational theatre,” and they have hit the mark again with Be More Chill, a brand-new, energetic, modernistic fantasy musical, fresh from its March 10-Aug. 11, 2019 Broadway run. Directed by Jesse R. Gephart, with choreography by Jess Barbour and musical direction by Katherine Anderson, this show is packed with fast-paced action, upbeat music, spectacular dance numbers, and — yes — plenty of laughs.
Be More Chill, which features music and lyrics by Joe Iconis and a book by Joe Tracz, based on the 2004 novel by Ned Vizzini, chronicles a few very pivotal days in the life of high school junior Jeremy Heere, a self-professed “loser.” Socially inept, Jeremy has only one friend (Michael Mell); he is bullied by tough-guy Rich Goranski; he pines after his long-time crush Christine Canigula: and he is embarrassed by his recently divorced dad (who works from home and therefore sees no reason ever to put on pants).
Jeremy’s life undergoes a radical change when, at Rich’s suggestion, he purchases a “Squip” — a Super Quantam Unit Intel Processor — a tiny computer that comes in the form of “an aspirin-sized pill.” Taken with “Yellow Mountain Dew,” a Squip implants itself in the brain and tells the user what to do and say. In an effort to become cool (to “be more chill”), as well as to connect with Christine, Jeremy swallows the pill and begins the wild ride.
It has been said that “romantic triangles” make a theater interesting and fun. Buckle your seat belt and get ready to enjoy the “romantic polygon” that emerges as young stud Jake Dellinger (who has been around the block several times) vies for Christine (Jeremy’s love interest) and party girls Chloe and Brooke each set their sights on the now-more-chill Jeremy.
Never getting heavy-handed, Be More Chill at NRACT offers social commentary on such subjects as bullying, peer pressure, personal loyalty, family relationships, drug use, and the need to “belong.”
Director Jesse Gephart has assembled an amazing team of singer-dancer-actors. Brayden Roberge brings the right amount of Charlie Brown-esque anxiety and ineptness to the role of Jeremy; and Spencer Giles, who plays Jeremy’s best-friend Michael Mell, invests his character with plenty of loyalty and bulldog optimism.
As The Squip, Tyler Graeper evokes images of the character Mephistopheles in Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragicall Historie of Doctor Faustus. And Greg Toft trots out his diverse skills as he creates four roles, including Jeremy’s father Mr. Reyes (the drama teacher).
Krystin Wingfield juggles the multiple layers of Christine as she deals with anxieties, ineptitude, and infatuation similar to those experienced by Jeremy. Side Note: Christine and Jeremy employ different strategies as they deal with the need to know “what to say and do.”
Dusty Thomas, Dan Hawkins, Hannah Smith, Faith Brunswick, and Lark Bodnar all perform well as individual players in this game (as well as forming a tight, precise ensemble).
Scenic designer Thomas Mauney has provided a set that evokes images of computer circuitry, with set pieces easily rearranged by the cast to create the play’s various settings. Be prepared to be impressed by the clever use of the upstage “windows.”
Costume designer Sheila Cox has supplied the individual characters with a wide range of “everyday” outfits that are both character-specific and ocularly pleasing. In addition, she has conjured up the characters’ costumes for a play-within-a-play and a Halloween party.
The performance is enhanced by lighting (by Liz Grimes Droessler) and sound (courtesy of Todd Houseknecht). And Alyssa Petrone, Dave Petrone, and (producer) Elaine Petrone (a.k.a. “Team Petrone”) handle the props wizardry.
The music for this show is exceptional and well-executed. Musical director Katherine Anderson is stationed upstage left on keyboards. Also stationed stage left are guitarist Warren Sharp and bassist Keith Lewis. Tim Wall is backstage on drums, and a second keyboard is covered by either Rebecca Farlow or Lauren Tompkins.
The Final Word:
Be More Chill, which premiered in 2015 at the Two River Theater in Red Bank, NJ, played Off-Broadway in 2018, and ran on Broadway earlier this year, is definitely a “contemporary piece” of musical theater. It fits nicely into NRACT’s intimate space, and we are fortunate that NRACT is able to offer it so soon!
North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre presents BE MORE CHILL at 8 p.m. Nov. 1 and 2, 3 p.m. Nov. 3, 8 p.m. Nov. 8 and 9, and 3 p.m.Nov. 10 at 7713-51 Lead Mine Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27615, in the Food Lion Shopping Center.
TICKETS: $22 ($20 students, teachers, seniors, and active-duty military personnel), except $20 ($20 students, teachers, seniors, and active-duty military personnel) on Sunday.
BOX OFFICE: 919-866-0228, firstname.lastname@example.org, or https://nract.secure.force.com/ticket/#details_a0S1H00000Rbv58UAB.
SHOW: and https://www.facebook.com/events/1157797254431076/.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.nract.org/, https://www.facebook.com/NRACT, and https://twitter.com/NRACT.
Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.