Billboard on Broadway Podcast: Viral Sensation 'Be More Chill'

Maria Baranova
A scene from "BE MORE CHILL" 

It's not unusual for musicals to follow long and indirect paths to Broadway. But even by usual measures, the trajectory of the new musical Be More Chill is both unusual and incredible. 

The show started out in an off-off-Broadway run in New Jersey in 2015; closed and for a time went off the radar; mysteriously resurfaced on the internet via YouTube videos, fan art and more about a year and a half later; became a viral, streaming sensation; and, this summer, got an official, major off-Broadway run which immediately sold out -- preceding the recent announcement that the show would begin Broadway performances in February 2019. In the midst of the current run, cast members Will Roland, Stephanie Hsu and Jason Tam, along with composer Joe Iconis, visited the Billboard on Broadway podcast to chat about life inside the phenomenon that is Be More Chill.

"Even if you put your faith in the universe, you're not like, 'Oh, in two years this show will become a viral sensation in a way no show ever has, and that will be enough to get us a production on 42nd Street," says Iconis, a prolific composer who's perhaps best known outside the theater world for the music he wrote for NBC's Smash. "That's not something I would have dreamed." The show follows the misadventures of Jeremy, a high school junior who takes a pill/super-computer called a squip (portrayed by Tam, in full zen Keanu Reeves mode) which helps him become "more chill" (a.k.a. cool).

"There are a lot of things about Jeremy that are taken from me," says Roland, who most recently starred in the original cast of Dear Evan Hansen. "He makes a lot of attempts to fit in, to be liked, to be seen -- most of them go poorly, but I think that's more a result of the world. He attempts things I might have attempted, but they just went better for me than they did for Jeremy. The world has to be unfair to him a little bit. I'd like to think he's just got the wrong tack he's taking." 

The show's rabid young fan base, Hsu notes, "are right in that moment. As you get older, you can look upon those memories fondly, but there's a little removal. We've learned so much: These kids are exploding with energy, and they never get to see something that's really for them, and matches the level of feeling and passion and emotion that they're going through." Listen below.

The group goes on to recall what they were like in high school, their personal squips (Hsu's is... worth waiting for), how the show evolved from its original production until now, and why young performers love working with Iconis so much among a whole lot more in their conversation with host Rebecca Milzoff -- an especially rollicking episode of the podcast.

#BillboardonBroadway is a weekly podcast devoted to all things musical theater and their overlap with pop music. Click here to subscribe to the #BillboardonBroadway podcast on iTunes, and let us know what you think on Twitter (@rebeccamilzoff) or by rating the podcast on iTunes.