Inside Broadway's Pop Phenomenon 'Be More Chill'

Maria Baranova
George Salazar in "Be More Chill"

To call the musical Be More Chill's trajectory a journey is no exaggeration. The show -- about an anxious high school student who ingests a supercomputer called a "squip" in an effort to learn to become more cool -- began its life way-off-Broadway in New Jersey in 2015, with no expectation to go further. Then, buoyed by a wave of fan interest on the Internet, its music and videos became a viral streaming sensation. That sudden and overwhelming response helped send the show to a proper off-Broadway production  last summer -- and, now, its Broadway debut at the Lyceum theater.

This week, stars George Salazar, Stephanie Hsu and Gerard Canonico -- all of whom have been with the show since its inception -- join host Rebecca Milzoff to look back at Be More Chill's crazy path and to reflect on their Broadway experience so far.

"For the first time, we've found such ownership of the show," Hsu says of the production. "We know what our show is. We know it's crazy and weird. But it's really ours now ... a nightly experience of just riding this wave."

In its curren incarnation, the egalitarian and ensemble feel of the show has only been amplified, the cast members say. "Everybody has voices in their heads; everybody is coming of age in some way in this version of Be More Chill," Hsu explains. "No matter who you were in high school, everyone can probably point to one [character] at least."

As they settle into playing to packed houses of ultra-passionate fans every night, the actors are finding new ways to appreciate composer Joe Iconis' music as well. 

"He is not precious with his work," Salazar says. "There's a freedom he allots us, and it has everything to do with that playful ownership thing we feel now ... he's allowed all of us to find a way to make these songs our own."

"He is a poet of the conversational nature of words," Hsu adds. "It's such a strength of Joe's: to find music and melody in the ways in which our minds wander." 

In a wide-ranging (and often hilarious) chat, the trio recall their Be More Chill auditions, their own high school days, and reveal their current real-life squips of choice.

#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.