Remember those awkward days of high school? A world composed of cool kids, losers and everyone in-between? One in which the girl of your dreams was supposedly “out of your league?”
Few periods in life have the lasting effect on us like the four long steps from freshman to senior year. It’s a period when young people constantly feel as though they’re being judged. It’s such a brief part of our lives, but one that seems so important at the time. Film director John Hughes (“Breakfast Club,” “Sixteen Candles,” etc.) made a career out of portraying the anxiety and angst that ran rampant through school halls each day.
But what if you could wake up one day as someone new? Instantly transformed into the coolest guy in school?
That’s the premise behind “Be More Chill,” a world premiere musical presented by Two River Theater. Based on the 2004 novel by Ned Vizzini, “Be More Chill” features music and lyrics by Joe Iconis with book by Joe Tracz. The play revolves around Jeremy Heere, an average teenager who finds out about “The Squip” — a tiny supercomputer that promises to bring him everything he desires most: a date with Christine, an invite to the raddest party of the year and a chance to survive life in his suburban New Jersey high school.
A talented cast from some of the biggest recent shows on Broadway brings this world to life. Jeremy Heere is played by Will Connolly (“Once”); Stephanie Hsu (“Winners”) portrays Christine, the girl of his dreams; and Eric William Morris (“Bloodsong of Love”) plays The Squip. The cast also features Jake Boyd (“Rock of Ages”), Gerard Canonico (“Spring Awakening”), Katlyn Carlson (“Dirty Dancing”), Katie Ladner (“Heathers: The Musical”), Lauren Marcus (“The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks”), George Salazar (“Godspell”), and Paul Whitty (“Once”).
Originally from Bergen County, Morris is making his Two River debut and is excited to have the opportunity to be back in the Garden State.
“This has been a dream come true to be back in Jersey doing what I love,” said Morris. “My mom has decided that she is going to come see the show at least twice a week. I think that pretty much sums up how perfect this has been.”
Morris says that high school was actually a good experience for him, but middle school was his house of horrors. “I was very awkward and got made fun of and, eventually, by the end of 8th grade, just stopped caring about what people thought of me,” he recalled. “So, by the time high school started, I had found some pretty genuine friends and I have stayed close with them to this day.”
Looking back at those high school years, Morris does have some regrets, though.
“I regret all the anxiety I let myself feel in high school,” said Morris. “I was very worried about not breaking any rules and not getting into any trouble — so much so that I think it limited the experiences that I could have had. For instance, I never left school during our lunch break because ‘we weren’t supposed to.’ But I missed out on some very fun trips to Wendy’s. That doesn’t seem like a huge regret now that I am saying it out loud, but Wendy’s trips were a big deal to a 16-year-old in New Jersey.”
There are many moments in the play that audience members will recognize. For Morris, watching Will Connolly as Jeremy trying to impress Christine opened the floodgate for awkward memories. “Specifically his attempt to impress a girl with the line, ‘So, I heard this thing on The Discovery Channel about how humans aren’t evolving anymore…’ It’s so beautifully awkward and it kills me every time I hear it.”
Two River Theatre is known for embracing social media and creative marketing campaigns and “Be More Chill” continues that path. The theatre company handed out special “Be More Chill” sunglasses at festivals and local high schools, encouraging people to post photos on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag “#bemorechillmusical — the campaign was so successful they ran out of sunglasses early in the run!
“I think that people identify with all the potential that comes along with the high school years in one’s life,” added Morris. “I also feel like people identify with the high school experience because it is almost like a trial run for all of the experiences that you have for the rest of your adult years. When you are 16 or 17, it seems like the world ends outside of the few hundred or so people that you get to know in your school, so all of the little daily choices and mistakes that you make feel like they have huge ramifications in that little world of people. There is a lyric in “Be More Chill” that is very much about that…”
Now should I take the bus or walk instead?
I feel my stomach filling up with dread
When I get nervous my whole face goes red
Dude, weigh the options calmly and be still:
A Junior on the bus is killer weak
But if I walk when I arrive I’m gonna straight-up reek
And my boxers will be bunchy and my pits will leak.
Oh, Gah! I wish I had the skill
To just be fine and cool and chill.
“Be More Chill” runs at Two River Theater (21 Bridge Avenue) in Red Bank now through June 28, 2015. For more information visit http://www.trtc.org.