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WORLD DOMINATION: Be More Chill, Iconis, Tracz and 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 16 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.

At the top of that list is global musical theater hit Be More Chill. The story of a teenaged misfit and the ingestible supercomputer instructing him on how to become cool has now reached millions of fans around the world, after beginning its life as a Two River Theater commissioned world premiere!

Here’s a timeline of Two River Theater’s history with the definitive musical theater cult sensation of the 20th century, the creative talents behind it, 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

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—about a teenager who ingests a sinister supercomputer in the hopes it can help him join the ranks of the popular kids—Two River teamed Joe with Joe Tracz (who wrote the musical’s sharp and hilarious book); we now affectionately call them “The Joes.” 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 Joan and Robert Rechnitz, who adored the production, 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, creating their own animation of scenes from the show, and more. Popular fandom hub Tumblr.com ranked Be More Chill as second overall for the Top Musicals of 2017, beating out 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

On the strength of that viral and international adoration, in spring 2018 Be More Chill announced an Off-Broadway run at the Pershing Square Signature Center. As The New York Times wrote in a lengthy feature prior to the Off-Broadway run, “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. And Joe Iconis was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Original Score, with Be More Chill getting a special tribute performance in the Tony Ceremony’s opening number, featuring James Corden, Josh Groban, Sara Barielles, and Neil Patrick-Harris.

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

The night that Be More Chill closed on Broadway, Joe Iconis and his family of artists sent the beloved musical off with a post-bows concert and joyous celebration. Immediately after, he hit the road and returned to Red Bank, to prepare for a week of workshopping the Love in Hate Nation. The week of deep-diving into the script and music of his next Two River Theater world premiere culminated with a concert performance open to the public. 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

Two River’s original cast recording of Be More Chill is the #4 most streamed cast album of the decade—coming in behind only Hamilton, Dear Evan Hanson and Wicked.

LOOKING TOWARDS THE 2020S

The global impact of Be More Chill continues to grow, with a much-raved about London run underway in 2020 and a Chicago premiere coming up soon! Meanwhile, back where it all began, 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. We are very excited about their idea, and look forward to sharing it with our fans and friends as soon as we can!

WATCH

"The Pitiful Children" Music Video

Eric William Morris as The SQUIP in Be More Chill
Play video  

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