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A HOME FOR ARTISTS: The CHILL History of Joe Iconis & Two River Theater

As a central part of our mission, Two River Theater is committed to contributing to great American theater by nurturing and producing the classics of tomorrow. Since its founding, Two River has commissioned more than 18 original plays, adaptations, and musicals. Many productions that started at Two River Theater (including plays that we have commissioned, developed and premiered) have gone on to acclaim in other theaters around the country and internationally.

We’re also happy and honored to be an artistic home for artists, providing the support and resources (and excited audiences!) to help them cultivate their work over the years. Musical theater composer and Tony Award nominee Joe Iconis is one such artist we’re happy to have a part of our family.  Global musical theater hit Be More Chill started as a TRT commission with a world premiere in 2015 before heading all the way to Broadway, and romantic rock musical Love in Hate Nation shook the Two River Theater stage with sha-la-las in its world premiere production in 2019!

Here’s a timeline of Two River Theater’s history with Joe Iconis, the definitive musical theater cult sensation of the 20th century, and what we’re looking forward to going into the 2020s.

Be More Chill is fresh and fun, but with a lot of heart. With an infectious soundtrack, bags of energy and a brilliant cast, this is a unique and entertaining production deserved of its revival. It’s easy to see why Be More Chill is a fan favourite, and long may it last.

—LONDON THEATRE REVIEWS

PHOTOS

A HISTORY

2010: HELEN? YOU MEAN HELEN?

Lyricist, composer, writer, raconteur, showman, internet sensation, and the “future of musical theater” (The New York Times) Joe Iconis first hit the Two River stage as part of our very first Cabaret of New Songs for the Musical Theater, featuring work written by graduates from NYU’s Musical Theatre Writing program. Joe’s lively—and surprising—ode to “Helen,” performed by Jason SweetTooth Williams, instantly charmed the audience. Artistic Director John Dias approached Joe the very next day with a commission for a full musical, to premiere at Two River.

Eric William Morris as The SQUIP in Be More Chill

2015: YOU WILL BE MORE CHILL

To adapt the young-adult novel Be More Chill by Ned Vizzini, Two River teamed Joe with Joe Tracz (who wrote the musical’s sharp and hilarious book). Developed through workshops and readings, Be More Chill had its world premiere at Two River in June 2015, and built a passionate local fanbase over the course of its four-week run. With the support of production superfans Joan and Robert Rechnitz, Two River produced the musical’s Original Cast Recording with Sh-K-Boom/Ghostlight Records in 2015, and the show was licensed through Rodgers and Hammerstein so it could be staged in other regional and community theaters, high schools, and colleges.

2017: FAN-DOMINATION

Two years after the release of the original cast album and abetted by Two River’s marketing efforts, Be More Chill caught fire online through the power of music streaming services. New fans from all over the world (the vast majority of whom had not seen the original Two River Theater production) took to social media and the web to express their love for the show through fanart, fanfiction, dressing up as their favorite characters, and more. Popular fandom hub Tumblr.com ranked Be More Chill as second overall for the Top Musicals of 2017, over musicals like Tony Award winner Dear Evan Hansen and Wicked. The only musical to top Be More Chill that year, according to Tumblr fans, was super-smash-hit Hamilton.

Artwork by @jartsstuff

2018: BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY

In spring 2018 Be More Chill announced an Off-Broadway run at the Pershing Square Signature Center. As The New York Times wrote, “Before Be More Chill even starts previews…it will already be one of the most popular new musicals in America, with a passionate fan base that dwarfs the number of people who have ever seen the show.” The limited engagement, which featured the same creative team and much of the same cast from Two River’s production, completely sold out. Be More Chill opened on Broadway that summer, reaching a total audience of more than 150,000 people through its 207 performances. Joe Iconis was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Original Score.

AUGUST 2019: HATE NATION, LET ME TELL YOU ’BOUT IT

The night after Be More Chill closed on Broadway, Joe Iconis hit the road and returned to Red Bank, to prepare for a week of workshopping the script and music of his next Two River Theater world premiere, a love story between inmates of a reformatory for teenaged girls in the 1960s. Love in Hate Nation celebrated a raucous and rambunctious run in the fall of 2019, with clear evidence of Iconis’ worldwide impact: audience members for Love in Hate Nation traveled from 25 states and Australia, Canada, Mexico City, Tokyo and Wales to see the show.

END OF A DECADE: COOLER THAN A VINTAGE CASSETTE

As the 2010’s drew to a close, Two River’s original cast recording of Be More Chill was the #4 most streamed cast album of the decade—coming in behind only Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen and Wicked.

Joes Reunite!

The Joes—Iconis and Tracz—came up with the proposal for their next Two River commission during a week-long writers’ retreat back at Red Bank in 2020. We are very excited about their idea, and look forward to sharing it with our fans and friends as soon as we can!

BMC Goes UK

The global impact of Be More Chill continues to grow! The 2020 London run drew heaps of praise before the Covid-19 theater closures, but made a triumphant return for a 10-week 2021 run at the Shatfesbury Theatre, from June 30 to September 5. It was a “feel-good, exciting, glorious” return to theater for musical-lovers after the difficulties of lockdown!

Operation Sha La La: Original Cast Recording

In August 2021, the original cast of Love in Hate Nation reunited for a recording session with Ghostlight Studios, to create the Original Cast Album! Making hearts go nah-nah-nah and sha-la-la, the album was released digitally on February 11, 2022. Stream the album now!

Half A Billion Streams

Talk it, text it, pass it, stream it! You read that right. As of July 2022, Be More Chill amassed 500+ million streams worldwide on the Original and Broadway Cast Recordings.

It's from Japan!

Be More Chill‘s world domination continues! Be More Chill Japan, starring J-Pop star Kota Yabu of Hey! Say! JUMP, began performances at Tokyo’s New National Theatre Playhouse on July 25, 2022. Following the highly anticipated run in Tokyo, the production will continue on to Fukuoka and Osaka. Photo by HIKIJI Nobuhiko.

CRITIC REVIEWS

HEY EVERYBODY HAVE YOU HEARD? LONDON CRITICS LOVE BMC, NOW GO SPREAD THE WORD!

It feels a bit like a high school play, in a good way: in-jokes, visual gags, messy hormone-fuelled energy that sweeps you into its weirdly retro world.

—TIME OUT

A phenomenon somewhat unprecedented in the theatre busines

—BROADWAYWORLD

A sleeper hit bolstered by an inordinate number of album streams on Spotify after its initial premiere in New Jersey in 2015, it has all the edgy, nerdy verve that draws teens and tweens like moths to a flame

—WHAT’S ON STAGE

Be More Chill is fresh and fun, but with a lot of heart. With an infectious soundtrack, bags of energy and a brilliant cast, this is a unique and entertaining production deserved of its revival. It’s easy to see why Be More Chill is a fan favourite, and long may it last.

—LONDON THEATRE REVIEWS

If you are a parent of a teenager who is trying to navigate the trials of school life, social media and the popularity game in general, this show is worth taking seriously.

—TIMES

Be More Chill is far from a neat continuation of a trend. Arriving from Broadway, it feels gloriously like its own thing, filled with astute observation alongside delightfully silly humour and storming performances.

—THE GUARDIAN