Review: ‘Be More Chill’ at Monumental Theatre Company

Monumental's 'Be More Chill' shines a light on Millennial energy and talent in the DMV.

If you can’t get to the Broadway sensation Be More Chill, which closes August 11, there is no need to despair. Monumental Theatre Company is presenting the DMV’s first professional version of this totally rad show, and it is terrific.

Ben Ribler and Christian Montgomery in ‘Be More Chill. Photo by RJ Pavel.

Our hero Jeremy, a self-described loser, has his aspirations to be “chill” granted when he ingests a “Squip” a kind of supercomputer pill. The production, which had an initial run at Two River Theater in New Jersey (2015) was propelled all the way to Broadway when the score went viral and sparked a huge online fan base. Music and Lyrics are by Joe Iconis and the book is by Joe Tracz, based on a 2004 novel by Ned Vizzini. Fans who are streaming the soundtrack on Tumblr will have a great time, and everyone else will too.

The direction by Izzy Smelkinson, with Associate Director Megan Bunn, is first-rate. The music and dance are exhilarating and the cast is bursting with energy and talent. Teenagers, technology, love, and social media: Be More Chill has it all.

Monumental Theatre Company, which calls itself “the leading emerging theatre company in the DC Metro area catering to millennials” won the John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company at the Helen Hayes Awards in 2018. They had 9 Helen Hayes nominations for 2019. Be More Chill is another coup for this resourceful young group.

Ben Ribler is, if anything, too winning a presence to portray chronic loser Jeremy, but his acting makes his dilemma all too real. His love interest, Christine, (Jyline Carranza) is charming and bubbly. Their duet “A Guy That I’d Kinda Be Into” is very touching.

Christian Montgomery has the key role of Michael, Jeremy’s best friend. The song “Michael in the Bathroom” as sung by George Salazar, was crucial to the evolution of Be More Chill into an Internet phenomenon. Montgomery is marvelous in the part, and he makes Michael all his own. Montgomery’s performance of “Michael in the Bathroom” is one of the highlights of the production.

And then there is the “Squip”, which is played by an actual person. On Broadway it is Jason Tam; here, the all-female creative team cast a female, Caroline Dubberly. Dubberly is a kind of even cooler Samantha Bee, and her efforts to reconfigure Jeremy are hilarious. With her performance, the Squip becomes a wonderfully dynamic, if flawed, example of female empowerment.

Ben Ribler and Caroline Dubberly in ‘Be More Chill.’ Photo by RJ Pavel.

Nigel Rowe is disarming as Rich, with his supercharged rendition of “The SQUIP Song”. Geocel Batista (Brooke) and Molly Rumberger (Chloe) are a great team as two popular girls and sometime rivals. In their duet “Do You Wanna Ride?” it is heartwarming to see Rumberger as Chloe giving her bestie Brooke (Batista) pointers on how to reel in Jeremy.

Jonathan Helwig is surprisingly likable as cool guy Jake, and his entrance in a wheelchair with some sort of leafy headpiece (details will become clear onstage) is very funny. Allison Bradbury’s Jenna handles her transition beautifully, from being left out to knowing everyone’s business once she is Squipped. Derrick Truby has several roles: exasperated drama teacher Mr. Reyes, Mr. Heere, Jeremy’s father, and Scary Stock Boy at a dual-purpose store. He performs with flair, and his duet with Michael “The Pants Song” is one of his best moments.

The Scenic Design (Simone Schneeberg) is cleverly handled, with rooms and accessories moving in and out briskly. Costume Design by Kristen P. Ahern is colorful and perfectly attuned to the high school setting. Music Director Marika Countouris and Choreographer Patricia “Pep” Targete provide an entertaining combination of music and dance. Lighting Design (Helen Garcia-Alton) and Sound Design (Jordana Abrenica, Madeline Clamp) are equally fine. Special mention is due to the work of Props Design (Jenn Taglieri) and Fight Choreographer (Bess Kaye).

Be More Chill is a celebration of millennial energy, talent, and drive. Don’t miss it.

Running Time: 2 hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

Be More Chill, presented by Monumental Theatre Company, runs from July 11-29, 2019, at the Ainslie Arts Center on the campus of Episcopal High School, 3900 West Braddock Road, Alexandria, Virginia 22304. Purchase tickets online.

CREATIVE TEAM:
Music & Lyrics by Joe Iconis
Book by Joe Tracz based on a novel by Ned Vizzini
Director: Izzy Smelkinson
Associate Director: Megan Bunn
Music Director: Marika Countouris
Choreographer: Patricia “Pep” Targete
Lighting Design: Helen Garcia-Alton
Costume Design: Kristen P. Ahern
Scenic Design: Simone Schneeberg
Props Design: Jenn Taglieri
Sound Design: Jordana Abrenica, Madeline Clamp
Fight Choreographer: Bess Kaye

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Sophia Howes
Sophia Howes has been a reviewer for DCMTA since 2013 and a columnist since 2015. She is a playwright and director. An early draft of her play Southern Girl was performed at the Public Theater-NY, and two of her plays, Rosetta’s Eyes and Solace in Gondal, were produced at the Playwrights’ Horizons Studio Theatre. She studied with Curt Dempster at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, where her play Madonna was given a staged reading at the Octoberfest. Her one-acts Better Dresses and The Endless Sky, among others, were produced as part of Director Robert Moss’s Workshop-NY. She has directed The Tempest, at the Hazel Ruby McQuain Amphitheatre, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Monongalia Arts Center, both in Morgantown, WV. She studied English at Barnard, and received her BFA with honors in Drama from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where she received the Seidman Award for playwriting. Her play Adamov was produced at the Harold Clurman Theater on Theater Row-NY. She holds an MFA from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where received the Lucille Lortel Award for playwriting. She studied with, among others, Michael Feingold, Len Jenkin, Lynne Alvarez, and Tina Howe. Her father, Carleton Jones, long-time Real Estate Editor and features writer for the Baltimore Sun, inspired her to become a writer.