THEATRE

Monumental Theatre Co.’s “Be More Chill” is Really Cool

By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Editor

Christian Montgomery (Michael) and the cast of “Be More Chill”. Photo by RJ Pavel.

What if nerdy, loner you could take a pill (OK, a tiny supercomputer named SQUIP or Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor) and suddenly be the most brilliant, charismatic person you ever met? Or the sexiest woman or man in town? Or more…wait for it…chill? Would that make you totally happy? Think so? Dream on suckers…

Monumental Theatre Co. and the brilliant writing team of Joe Iconis (music and lyrics) and Joe Tracz (book) are posing that question in the (surprising to me!) jewel of a musical, “Be More Chill”. But first, a little background on the development of this fascinating production, which is based on a 2004 novel for young adults by Ned Vizzini. “Be More Chill” premiered May 2015 in Red Bank New Jersey, went on to an off-Broadway production in 2018 and finally, on to Broadway (closing in August).Ben Ribler (Jeremy) and Christian Montgomery (Michael) in "Be More Chill". Photo by RJ Pavel.

The original 2015 production played in an intimate house and setting to a much smaller audience than the current Broadway production. That original cast recorded a cast album which, through the magic of social media, went viral and millions of tweens, teens, and way older folks heard over 200 million streams and loved the score. In September 2018, Monumental Theatre Co., in its wisdom, got the rights to stage the original production. That’s the version we are seeing now, not the much larger, more commercialized version currently playing on Broadway.

Now, one caution before you bring young children to see this show: there is a “pants theme” which runs through the show and it opens with a fairly graphic depiction of, well…I’ll let you guess. Other than that, and some discussion of porn, the sex discussions and off-color language are pretty mild.

Jyline Carranza (Christine) and female cast members of “Be More Chill”. Photo by RJ Pavel.

The cast is absolutely first-rate in every way! Each cast member can sing up a storm, dance well and the fight scene is amazing! Ben Ribler (Jeremy) and Christian Montgomery (Michael) lead this marvelous cast including the somewhat evil, almost human SQUIP (Caroline Dubberly) and the only level-headed teen other than Michael, Christine, is beautifully portrayed by Jyline Carranza. The rest of this stand-out cast includes Allison Bradbury (Jenna), Derrick D. Truby Jr. (Mr. Reyes/Mr. Heere/Scary Stock Boy), Geocel Batista (Brooke), Jonathan Helwig (Jake), Molly Rumberger (Chloe) and Nigel Rowes (Rich).

Christian Montgomery’s performance of “Michael in the Bathroom” is a standout. Brought down the house. Christian is a powerhouse performer and exudes a sweetness and calm that Jeremy (superbly acted by Ben Ribler) needs but throws away when he’s under the influence of the fabulous SQUIP (Caroline Dubberly). I promise that you will be thinking about and replaying unforgettable scenes from this show long after you see it.

Caroline Dubberly (The Squip) and Ben Ribler (Jeremy) in “Be More Chill”. Photo by RJ Pavel.

The music is wonderfully realized by Marika Countouris and her orchestra of six including reed and keyboard, guitar, percussion, bass, trumpet and theremin. And yes, much of it is loud, but not overpoweringly so. You must hear this! It’s very well balanced by Jordana Abrenica, sound designer. By the way, the entire creative team are women! Monumental Theatre Co. felt that since the book and music were done from a male perspective, women could make a profound statement creatively. It works!

The staging by Simone Schneeberg, which is made up of mostly modular pieces representing school lockers, a Murphy bed in Jeremy’s room, the school auditorium, and a Payless Shoe store, works beautifully with the jazzy and somewhat futuristic lighting of Helen Garcia-Alton. The timeframe is about 2013, so there are no ubiquitous cell phones and the vibe created by director Izzy Smelkinson harkens a bit back to the Sci-Fi movies of the 50’s and 60’s. There is a sweetness about this truly cutting-edge production that makes it easy to like and a “must-see” this summer!

Christian Montgomery (Michael), Ben Ribler (Jeremy), and Caroline Dubberly (The Squip) in "Be More Chill". Photo by RJ Pavel.
Christian Montgomery (Michael), Ben Ribler (Jeremy), and Caroline Dubberly (The Squip) in “Be More Chill”. Photo by RJ Pavel.

Spoiler Alert!!! In the end, Jeremy realizes, as do the other teens who took the SQUIP pill to be more chill, that in order to have the best life you must be yourself. Jeremy and his new friends had to go through some bad and sometimes Sci-Fi-like spooky patches in order to learn that life lesson, but ultimately, the search was worth it.

Ticket and Production Information: “Be More Chill” presented by Monumental Theatre Co., runs from July 11-29, 2019, at the Ainslie Arts Center on the campus of Episcopal High School, 3900 West Braddock Road, Alexandria, VA 22304. Tickets may be purchased online at http://www.monumentaltheatre.org/be-more-chill.html.

Sara Dudley Brown

Sara Dudley Brown is the Theatre Editor of The Zebra Press. She graduated with a music degree in voice from Rollins College Conservatory of Music in Winter Park Florida. After several years of professional singing and acting (Disney World and The Kenley Theatres as well as voice-over and film here in the DMV area), trying and failing miserably at being Barbra Streisand (the post was already filled), Sara decided to take her lifelong love of music and the theatre to create a profession which would use everything she had learned theatrically and musically over the years—corporate event production and management. She began with department store events, working for the May Company putting on events in 18 stores, and went on to found her own corporate event management company. She recently retired after 30 years of mounting mega events internationally and domestically for some of the world’s top aviation manufacturers. Now Sara is once again using her years of theatrical work as well as her musical training to review Metro Area professional theatre productions for The Zebra Press. She thinks this is a much more sane way to live and never tires of the excitement of a theatre opening!

Related Articles

Check Also
Close
Back to top button