Musical ‘Be More Chill’ promises high energy

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An innovative musical about the challenges of high school offers BW students an opportunity to learn about the worlds of both Regional and Broadway theatre.
“Be More Chill” is a two-act musical and is based on the novel by Ned Vizzini.
The musical is co-produced by Baldwin Wallace and Playhouse Square as part of their annual spring collaboration.
It centers around the character Jeremy Heere, who discovers a super-computer called “The Squip” that changes the course of his high school career.
Jon Martinez is the director and choreographer of BW and Playhouse Square’s co-production of “Be More Chill.” Martinez has choreographed and directed shows in theatres across Chicago and also teaches several dance classes throughout Chicago.
“I love teaching,” said Martinez. “My first choreography job was part of a high school theatre program.”
The program that Martinez took part in is After School Matters, which is a program provided by the city of Chicago to high schools without sustainable theatre programs.
Martinez joined BW’s production of “Be More Chill” after Victoria Bussert reached out to him.
The music and lyrics of “Be More Chill” are by Joe Iconis. Martinez was familiar with Iconis’s work before working on the production. Iconis’s work featured on Season 2 of NBC’s TV show, Smash, a show about life on Broadway.
“I love Joe Iconis’s music,” said Martinez. “I got into it because of Smash. His pop-rock sound is so new to musical theatre.”
The show recently went on Broadway on March 10.
“It’s a little intimidating,” said Martinez. “Older shows having a following. They know what works. Because “Be More Chill” is so new and current, there’s not reference point.”
While Martinez has a tentative vision for the show in mind, the cast helps shape the show through rehearsals.
“You try a step, you try a piece of staging, you try a delivery of a line,” said Martinez. “And if it feels right, you go with it. If it doesn’t feel right, you try until you find the right rhythm.”
The plot of “Be More Chill” is set in high school, which calls for some high-energy choreography.
“I’ve had a lot of fun creating the choreography for the show because the music is fast and driving,” said Martinez.
The story, music, and choreography work together to make the audience experience the emotions felt in high school.
“It encapsulates what it’s like to be in high school,” said Martinez. “Getting from point A to point B and sometimes just trying to skate by.”
There is a mix of dance styles throughout the musical, said Martinez.
“People make formations, and then they break the formations,” said Martinez. “There’s a lot of technique involved and some splashes of ballet.”
After “The Squip” gets introduced into Jeremy’s life, the style of choreography shift, said Martinez.
“As the show goes on, the choreography starts to become more grounded” said Martinez. “There are sharp head movements and arms hitting positions and switching really fast. The choreography gets a little hip-hop.”
Senior Arts Management majors Kaitlyn Carr and Stephanie Kelleher started working on the show with mentors from Playhouse Square in January.
“Our capstone project is to produce “Be More Chill” at Playhouse Square,” said Carr.
The capstone offers Art Management majors the opportunity to work in different areas of the field.
“We sell tickets and do branding,” said Kelleher.
Kelleher and Carr appreciate the history behind the collaborations between Baldwin Wallace and Playhouse Square.
“It’s the 12th annual collaboration between BW and Playhouse Square,” said Carr.
“The spring productions are always fresh and innovative productions,” said Kelleher. “They pick shows that work well with what the cast have to offer.”
Because Baldwin Wallace has been producing the show simultaneously to Broadway, it’s given Kelleher and Carr the chance to work closely with teams in New York.
“The creative team in New York has been very gracious with giving us opinions and being there for us for our regional premiere,” said Kelleher.
The production also shows the students how shows operate at Playhouse Square, said Carr.
“None of us have produced anything like this before,” said Carr. “Our Playhouse Square mentors have been great about walking us through it.”
Having the BW production run simultaneously to Broadway also presents some challenges, said Kelleher.
“We’re in a very unique position because it can’t marketed the same way. We have to be conscious about what we’re putting out there,” said Kelleher. “For example, we couldn’t use the same artwork used on Broadway. It forces us to be a little more creative.”
Kelleher finds the show to be enjoyable and relatable.
“It’s a heart-warming show,” said Kelleher. “I think that everyone can relate to what these characters are going through. It just so happens that the story takes a surprising twist that the rest of us didn’t have, or what we wish we had, in high school.”
Tickets can be bought from the Kleist box office or at playhousesquare.org. The shows are on April 5-7.

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