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SOUNDTRACK: “BE MORE CHILL” Tiny Desk Concert #862 (July 1, 2019).

Be More Chill is a musical based on the YA novel by Ned Vizzini.  I hadn’t heard of the musical, but this Tiny Desk Concert makes me wish I had seen it [it closed August 11] (or that they make a movie out of it).  Or at least I’ll read the book now.

This performance was done on the night after the Tonys [June 9] where it went 0 for 1.

winding down a disappointing awards season. Even its big Tonys moment — a skit in which host James Corden parodied the musical’s breakout song, “Michael in the Bathroom” — passed by without anyone bothering to name the source material.

But you wouldn’t have known it the next morning, as the Be More Chill crew — composer Joe Iconis, all but three members of the principal cast and a handful of musicians, each of whom held a key role in shaping the musical’s sound — bused from New York to NPR’s D.C. headquarters.

Their arrival was a genuine event: For our Sesame Street Tiny Desk concert earlier this summer, we’d encouraged our coworkers to bring their young children, but this time around, we asked for their teenagers — the young theater enthusiasts in their lives, and anyone else they knew who’d fallen under the spell of Be More Chill and its pair of prolifically streamed cast albums.

All the performers seem to be having a great time (especially Lauren Marchus who is a treat to watch).

From the moment they arrived for their Tiny Desk debut, the cast and crew of the Broadway musical Be More Chill radiated kind exuberance. They posed for selfies behind the desk, shared stories from the previous night’s Tony Awards and clowned around with cast member Jason SweetTooth Williams, who’d torn a muscle in his leg 48 hours earlier and used a wheelchair to get from the charter bus to the desk and back

Joe Iconis wrote the music and plays piano. He also introduces the story of an avergae kid named Jeremy.  But there’s a thing called a squip, a supercomputer inside of a pill which tells you how to behave.  The story is how Jeremy now navigates high school.

Iconis also explains that this isn’t a show where people play instruments (like Once), but everyone in the cast CAN play an instrument, so they decided to rearrange the songs for the Tiny Desk.  In the show, the music is

set to wiry, hard-driving synth-rock music.  The show has been a true cult phenomenon, with an intense online following and one of the youngest audiences Broadway has ever seen.

So rather, for this show, there is acoustic guitar, upright bass, melodica and even a washboard.

The blurb is one of the longest and most detailed of any Tiny Desk Concerts as it provides a lot of context for the songs.

In the run-up to “The Pants Song,” Jeremy’s recently divorced dad (played by Williams), who’s been embarrassing his son by moping around the house in a bathrobe, senses that Jeremy is in trouble. So he enlists Jeremy’s newly estranged best friend Michael (played by George Salazar) to step up and intervene. As lighthearted as it is, the song conveys a powerful message about loyalty, parenthood, friendship, forgiveness and advocacy, all wrapped up in a simple mantra: “When you love somebody, you put your pants on for them.”

It is funny and really catchy and features the show’s musical director Emily Marshall on melodica, Charlie Rosen who did the orchestration on upright bass, Gerard Canonico who plays Rick on guitar and Tiffany Mann who plays Jenna Rolan with a tasty backing vocal part.

Britton Smith  washboard

A Guy That I’d Kind Of Be Into” is a showcase for Jeremy’s crush, an oddball theater kid named Christine, who’s played on Broadway by Stephanie Hsu. But Hsu couldn’t make the Tiny Desk, so she’s replaced here by the charming Lauren Marcus, who normally plays Brooke Lohst onstage. It’s a sweet song about the early flowering of romantic interest, but it’s also a wise and insightful nod to the way declarations of young love can be so guarded and tentative that they seem, by design, almost nonexistent.

This song is catchy and very funny.  It’s a wonderfully endearing song.  I can’t comment on Hsu, but Lauren Marcus is terrific.  She plays ukulele and is so visibly emotive.  She totally makes the song come alive.  Britton Smith who plays Jake also does vocals [he played washboard in the previous song].  There’s backing vocals from Emily Marshall and Will Roland who plays Jeremy.

“A Guy That I’d Kind Of Be Into” holds its emotions at arm’s length, but “Michael in the Bathroom” is an atomic bomb of teenage feelings — not to mention one of the most broadly relatable songs from any genre in recent years. The backstory is simple enough: Michael, having been abandoned by his best friend, shows up at “the biggest party of the fall,” only to sequester himself in the bathroom and practically dissolve under the weight of his alienation, self-doubt, betrayal and regret. How George Salazar didn’t get nominated for a Tony will have to remain a mystery, because his performance — like the song itself, which feels like a true standard — will be talked about for years.

George Salazar is really fantastic in this performance.  He is funny and nervous and mad and scare and his voice is terrific.  I love the little Whitney Houston musical quote.  Emily Marshall adds xylophone to the melody.

Before the finale, Iconis says that after Vizzini killed himself, Iconis was able to complete this finale in Ned’s memory.    He then notes that this is the first time they’ve done this arrangement so it could be a total train wreck.  But it isn’t.

Finally, “Voices in My Head” closes Be More Chill — and this Tiny Desk concert — with a rousing celebration of Jeremy’s return from the brink. Played by Will Roland, Jeremy seizes center stage here, taking mental inventory (“might still have voices in my head / but now they’re just the normal kind”) as the other cast members pipe up with their own commentary on his life. Above all, it’s wonderfully rousing, building to a buoyant finale.

Will Roland really impresses with his singing–especially at the end when his voice really soars. The whole cast chimes in in sequence: Jason SweetTooth Williams, Gerard Canonico, Tiffany Mann, Lauren Marcus, Britton Smith.

I really enjoyed this and am very curious to hear what the original soundtrack is like.

[READ: July 1, 2019] “Son of Friedman”

This is an interesting story of a father, a son and fame.

George was once a famous actor.  He could pick his own scripts and lived fairly large.  He had divorced twice.  He was meeting his old friend William.  He and William worked together on many projects, although William’s star never really sank like George’s did.

While they are sitting in the restaurant, George is aware that people are checking out William–but ignoring him.

When George’s son Benji was born, George asked William to be the boy’s godfather.  And he was a great godfather–he celebrated Benji and spoiled the boy.   George and William hadn’t been in touch much in the last decade because of their mismatched celebrity.

But Benji brought them together–somewhat inadvertently. (more…)

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