Fifteen minutes of fame don’t even come close to the phenomenal success and widespread renown of Be More Chill and its cast, from the show’s origins in New Jersey in 2015, through its wildfire trending on social media, to its sold-out run Off-Broadway in 2018, and its recent transfer to Broadway in February. Texas native Tiffany Mann, who studied Opera at Oklahoma City University, has been a member of both of the sensational New York productions, playing the high-school gossip-girl Jenna Rolan and leading her castmates in “The Smartphone Hour (Rich Set a Fire)” with her powerhouse voice and animated moves.
Along with opening the show at the Lyceum Theatre earlier this month, Mann – also known for her roles in Waitress (Broadway) and Jerry Springer the Opera (Lucille Lortel Award), as well as her TV appearances on Orange Is the New Black and Rise – just spent some time in the studio last week, working with the company on the original Broadway cast recording of Be More Chill for Ghostlight Records, featuring the music and lyrics of Joe Iconis and set to be released this Spring.
On a hectic two-show day, Tiffany was kind enough to share fifteen minutes of her break between performances to answer some fast-paced questions about the megahit musical and to offer her spontaneous views on its themes and characters.
- Which character in Be More Chill were you most like in high school?
Tiffany: Christine Canigula. I went to a fine-arts high school, so breaking out in song was not unusual for me.
- What three personality traits do you share with your character Jenna Rolan?
I share her sense of fashion; her ferocity, which she gets to expose in “The Smartphone Hour;” and I do love a little bit of gossip.
- What’s the hottest piece of gossip you could tell us about the show?
Hahaha, oooohhhh! On stage, we’re not supposed to look at The Squip, because we can’t see him, only Jeremy can. But today I looked Jason [Tam, who plays The Squip] right in the eye and I thought, “Oh, gosh, I never get to interact with him” That’s because I’m not supposed to!
- Which song or scene in Be More Chill do you most enjoy performing?
I love the play sequence, when we’re performing A Midsummer Nightmare with Zombies. It’s like hunting for Easter eggs, with so many pieces to find and so many things that are happening, and it’s moving so fast. Plus the costumes are faaaaabulous!
- Do you prefer sci-fi or Shakespeare?
Sci-fi. It tickles my nerd vein; I love to discover all the wacky worlds where it can exist.
- To SQUIP or not to SQUIP? Would you have taken it?
As a high-schooler, I’d say “no,” because I was around a lot of people who were as weird as I was, so I wasn’t under the impression that I would have to be cool – we were all a bunch of weirdos!
7. What’s the best thing about playing a high-school student when you’re no longer a teenager?
Getting a glimpse into that world from a more comfortable standpoint, and realizing that my parents were right – the things I was fretting about weren’t that big a deal (Don’t tell my mother I said she was right!).
- What three things do you always have with you in your backpack?
Gum, deodorant, and water. I’m always chewing gum, to keep my throat moist for my singing.
- What’s the wildest Halloween costume you’ve ever worn?
I grew up in Texas, in the Bible Belt, so I wasn’t allowed to celebrate Halloween. But at age 21, I decided I wanted to, so I painted on a cat’s nose and whiskers, and put on cat’s ears, and went to a party. I hated it! Everyone was drunk and it wasn’t fun, so that was my one and only Halloween costume.
- Are you a social-media junkie?
Nowadays I am. I need to go to bed, it’s 2 AM, and I’m watching people on their Instagram stories.
- What’s the most memorable comment you’ve gotten from a fan?
A young lady who came with her high-school group said that for her to see a plus-size woman center stage was really important to her, as a plus-size lady. She had been told that she wouldn’t make it because of her size, so she was encouraged to see that if I could make it on Broadway, she could too.
- What’s the best thing about being on Broadway?
It’s great seeing all the younger people who are in the position I was in, and for me now to be able to inspire them; it’s inevitable to be walking in those shoes, and it’s important to me.
- Which Broadway show or star most inspired you to go into a life in the theater?
I saw a PBS recording of Ain’t Misbehavin’ with Ken Page and Nell Carter and the whole cast. Prior to that, I always thought that Broadway was just for white people, so to see an all-black cast – I got bit by the bug, and bit hard!
- What three emotions did you feel while you were in the studio making the new cast recording?
I’m not sure if this is an emotion, but I felt like my eyes would projectile cry, because I grew up listening to cast recordings, I wanted to do justice to Joe Iconis’s music, and I was there with this incredible wacky cast!
- If you were The Squip, what advice would you give teens to help them “be more chill?”
I would tell them that the things you think people are thinking about you are not true, and they don’t matter. What’s important is what YOU think about you.
Many thanks, Tiffany, for making the time to take our Pop quiz; it was a pleasure to talk to you, and to see you continue to amass fifteen minutes after fifteen minutes of fame!