“Be More Chill,” finally out of the lockdown freezer and live and chilling on the Manoa Valley Theatre stage, reflects the flavor of the Broadway musical genre that is evolving with regularity, if not consistency.
As directed and choreographed by Andrew Sakaguchi, “Chill” is hip, loud, ludicrous at times, and now. Meaning it has youth appeal, its intended audience, not so much for graying oldsters; it’s a bit like “Dear Evan Hansen,” with its focus on technology and social media, and “The Prom,” with its high school momentum involving kids in their own weird whirl (like in most musicals about high schoolers).
So there exists a great divide: parents and adults are not exactly tuned in on the same sci-fi electronic waves as the youths.
In this one, Jeremy (Darian Keanu Ruis Aquino) is an outsider trying to be an insider, who lacks confidence while yearning to be the beau of Chistine (Alanna Poelzing), his fellow drama student united by a production, and her lack of focus is emblematic of many kids today. He’s mighty likeable and mobile, with a voice that is as powerful as his dance moves; she’s the stand-offish picture of sweet indecision, trying to find her heart.
The musical, written by Joe Iconis (music and lyrics) and Joe Tracz (book), is set in a suburban New Jersey high school, where Halloween looms and a costumed song and bewitching tune makes this a timely arrival. So tricks and treats loom in the playout.
The key characters in Jeremy’s ‘hood include the Squip (Brandon Caban), an avatar in black costume festooned with neon green lights, an invasive alien supposedly a Keanu Reeves look-alike (not!) with powers to guide Jeremy in life and girlfriend issues; and Jeremy’s best buddy Michael (Moku Durant), who also is a geek with loyalty who gets locked in a bathroom; and Jeremy’s dad (Devon Nekoba), who hasn’t worn pants his wife left home.
Thus, the score includes such weirdo tunes as “Michael in the Bathroom” and “The Pants Song,” not relevant outside of the show but expressive and essential in defining some of the issues in the storytelling.
And among the ensemble, Bailey Barnes as Jenna is a multi-threat, as singer and dancer who projects and delivers on cue, and Melani Carrie as Chloe, whose seductive vocal and moves provide precise tension at the right moment.
The tale is based on Ned Vizzini’s novel with the same title, and the show began as an off-Broadway hit that transferred to the Broadway stage. It suits the MVT space well, thanks to Michelle Bisbee’s lean, clean and inventive set that includes numerous stairways and playing platforms, plus turntable wall panels that spin and display backstage mirror and sink, a small cluster of lockers, and even a pair of urinals … all smartly illuminated by Janine Myers’ precise lighting design.
Ticketing advisory: Your preordered reserved seats might have changed since you placed your order (mine did), so it’s advisable to arrive early and resolve seating issues, if any. MVT had to modify seating for social distancing, since protocols changed the rules after sales had started.
Details: www.manoavalleytheatre.com or call 988-6131.