North Shore Theatre Company: Be More Chill - Review by Jessica Green
We all know the story. A classic tale of a high school filled with drama, romance, angst, and a microscopic AI taking over the world through a well-known fluorescent green caffeinated beverage Okay, so that last part may not be But that is precisely why you should treat yourself to a night (or mid-afternoon) at the Zenith Theatre to watch North Shore Theatre Companies' latest production of Be More Chill.
With music and lyrics by Joe Iconis, book by Joe Tracz The original novel by Ned Vizzini of the same title, Be More Chill, became a bit of a theatre-kid cult classic overnight. Whilst it is not as dark as other 2010’s Y.A. shows such as Heathers or as rocky and childlike as The Lighting Thief, Be More Chill serves as somewhat of a bridge between these shows, touching on some of the same themes while having its own, albeit technology-enhanced, voice.
Directed by Sarah Campbell, is aligned with those who wrote, that Be More Chill "...works best with a cast of diverse misfits who ooze personality and smarts." Campbell makes the most of this iteration of the show, leading her cast to handle some of the weaker and darker parts of the material so well, some even become highlights of the show. The integration of physical comedy and irreverence in the material actually works for this show, adding to a sense of youth and play that Campbell clearly has worked hard to achieve.
This vision is supported by David Lang’s musical direction, which was assisted by Luke Arther (notably Australia’s first amateur Jeremy Heere) and choreographed by Kristy Hooper. Lang & Arthur have worked hard with their cast, with the ensemble singing sounding full and encouraging a balance of strictness and individuality with the score from vocal performances from the leading actors. Hooper has cleverly utilised levels and simple yet effective dance moves, most notably in "More than Survive" and The Smart Phone Hour," which convey the "textastrophy" amongst the student body whilst using the space of the Zenith effectively. She has also considered the strengths of her cast, making movers look like dancers and allowing the dancers to shine.
The show follows the story of Jeremy Heere, portrayed adeptly by Ellis Pinkerton, a social pariah seeking to be popular through a Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor (SQUIP for short), played by Leah Griffith. Both Pinkerton and Griffith embody their characters consistently, with the pair having developed a complementary contrast while moving in perfect synchronicity.
The reason for Jeremy’s dabble into microscopic illegal Japanese supercomputers is a girl, of course. The quirky, neuro-divergent, drama queen (literally) Christine Canigula is played by Rhiannon Lidbury. Having been first played by recent Oscar nominee Stephanie Hsu, Lidbury gives her all both physically and vocally, committing to all of Christine's eccentricities with ease. There was nary a squawk, hoot, or ca-caw out of place, and it never failed to make the audience howl.
Josh Maher plays the fan favourite role of Michael Mell. Maher gives the character his own spin, something that the entire cast has done across the board, which in a world of fandoms, Youtube, and Tik Tok is becoming increasingly difficult. Maher has developed a rapport and chemistry with every cast member he interacts with. Seeing someone who authentically embodies this character in his own way is a fantastic step in the right direction in the world of musical theatre.
Amongst the leads, the standouts for me were Cameron McCredie as SQUIP-ed high school bully Rich Goranski and the iconic duo of Megan Robinson and Gabrielle Rawlings as Brooke Lohst and Chloe Valentine, respectively. I could go on, and on, and on about these three. Their performances were fantastic. My eyes were constantly drawn to them, even when I tried not to look. Yes, Miss Rawlings, just as you intended, I was slightly traumatised by the sexy baby. (Shout out to costumes!)
As local gossip girl Jenna Roland; Renae Goodman; high school hero Jake Dillinger; Jack Talty; drama teacher Mr. Reyes; Benjamin Lea (who also played my favourite ensemble character of ‘Grandma at the Mall’); Scary Stockboy (with one iconic ad lib); Luke Baweja; and loveable Dad, Mr. Heere; Michael Mulvena, round out the main and featured ensemble, shining in all of their individual moments throughout the show.
The cast was rounded out by Zara Lake Thompson, Lilliana Davis, Rohana Utamchandani, Monroe Dodds, and Charlotte Allen as the ensemble, bringing this show to life by consistently being engaged, focused, and always having a purpose. This is something that can sometimes be overlooked, and I am so glad it wasn’t the case for this production. Everyone knew who they were and what they were doing at all times, so they should be applauded.
The set, designed by Campbell and constructed by Alan Roy, and the cast utilise the round shape of the stage and transform it into a concave lens. The set cleverly uses a trap door built into the stage right that allows both cast and crew to easily move some of the larger set pieces onto the stage. Costumes, by Campbell & Robinson, are a combination of contemporary clothing with some specific eye-catching pieces that support the narrative and contribute to the world of the show (keep an eye on the SQUIP folks!).
In a post-Covid world, putting on any production can be a mountain of a task. Doubly so for community theatre, where everyone involved has another life to lead. This show unfortunately had its challenges, with opening night becoming the show's final preview due to illness amongst the cast and crew. This obviously had some impact on what I saw. However, while the show is still finding its feet in some respects, when the footing was lost, the cast was able to work together as a team and recover. Despite these teething issues, I have deep admiration for this cast and crew, and I have no doubt the show will continue to be refined and perfected in subsequent performances.
Rating: Currently 3.5% out of a possible 5%, with a projected 4% at the end of the system upgrade.
Photos Courtney of Emma Somerville