Broadway

How An Online Fandom Put Be More Chill On Broadway

Last summer's off-Broadway run of Be More Chill. Photo by Maria Baranova, Courtesy Keith Sherman & Associates

When Chase Brock signed on to choreograph a new musical at a theater in New Jersey in 2015, he couldn't have predicted that four years later, he would be receiving fan art featuring his Chihuahua because of it. Nor could he have he imagined that the show—Be More Chill, based on the young adult novel by Ned Vizzini—would be heading to Broadway with one of the most enthusiastic teenage fan bases the Great White Way has ever seen.


The origin story of Be More Chill is already one of musical theater legend. After a month-long run at the Two River Theater, the creative team—including Brock, director Stephen Brackett, writer Joe Tracz and composer/lyricist Joe Iconis—thought the show's lifespan had unjustly passed. About two years later, Brock began noticing fan art popping up on Instagram, and assumed that Be More Chill was being performed at high schools or community theaters. (It wasn't yet: The show only became available to license in July 2017.) Instead, the cast recording was being streamed, over and over again, as teens discovered the show—and the rapidly growing canon of cosplay, fan fiction and fan art surrounding it—on YouTube, Tumblr and Instagram. By the spring of 2018, the album had been streamed over 100 million times. Be More Chill's success online is what convinced producers that it was ready for an off-Broadway production, which sold out before opening night; an extension of the run sold out in less than eight hours.

A move to Broadway, where the show begins previews this month, was almost inevitable. But the unapologetically quirky production will still be an underdog, just like its protagonist, Jeremy, a high school loser who ingests a pill-sized supercomputer called a Squip to help him be cool—or rather, "chill."

Brock partially attributes Be More Chill's wackiness to the absence of a commercial producer during development. "We were allowed to just do our thing, and as a result the show is spikier and stranger," he says. This freedom is also reflected in Brock's high-energy choreography, which draws from sources as various as a Belgian street dance called jumpstyle, and finger-tutting, which represents the digital world of the Squips. (His most memorable fan experience so far involved a teenage girl sitting near him on opening night off-Broadway, perfectly executing a complex finger-tutting sequence.)

Photo by Maria Baranova, Courtesy Keith Sherman & Associates

What was it like to visually shape a show that thousands of fans had listened to but never seen? "I had to trust that if one part of the show was connecting strongly then all the other parts would connect that strongly, too," says Brock.

But Be More Chill will need more than a teenage cult following to survive on Broadway. Brock says the show already has a growing fan base in the parents who brought their superfan tweens to the off-Broadway production. But the goal isn't to appeal to everyone, anyway. In fact, Brock believes that part of what has made the show so successful thus far is how it has connected with a very specific group: LGBTQ teens who consider themselves outsiders. Be More Chill's popularity on social media has generated an unprecedented collaboration with these fans, who have imagined new relationships between characters that are now alluded to in the show. "They are speaking back to us," says Brock, "and we have a responsibility of listening."

Health & Body
Getty Images

Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist who works with dancers at Atlanta Ballet, offers tips for creating a more body-positive studio experience:

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by NYCDA
Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

Keep reading... Show less
Broadway

We knew that Ivo van Hove and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's production of West Side Story would challenge our preconceived notions about the show.

But a recent Vogue story gives us a taste of just how nontraditional the Broadway revival will be. Most notably, van Hove is cutting "I Feel Pretty" and the "Somewhere" ballet, condensing the show into one act to better reflect the urgency of the 48-hour plot. (The choice has been approved by the West Side Story estate, including Sondheim, who has "long been uncomfortable" with some of the "I Feel Pretty" lyrics.)

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox