Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 23, 2024

JHU Barnstormers’ Be More Chill is energetic, conspiracy-filled fun

By ALICIA GUEVARA | April 19, 2024

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COURTESY OF ALICIA GUEVARA

The Barnstormers’ production of the sci-fi musical Be More Chill has stand-out acting performances and a peculiar attention to Mountain Dew. 

I love an angsty musical. There is nothing more entertaining to me than actors breaking into fully choreographed show tunes in the middle of dramatic, emotional scenes. The more pirouettes and tap dance numbers, the better. Nothing says emotional carnage like jazz hands. I blame watching High School Musical 2 at a young and impressionable age.

Because of this, the Barnstormers’ production of Joe Iconis and Joe Tracz’s Be More Chill was right up my alley. It instantly transported me back to my high school years and the accompanying agony of awkward social interactions, but with the added bonus of catchy song and dance numbers, which I deeply appreciated.

In the musical, Jeremy (Jackson Robien) is an unpopular high school student with only one real friend, Michael (Kenneth Elsman). After his longtime unrequited crush Christine (Rory Li) signs up for the school musical, Jeremy also signs up to get close to her, but he is continually frustrated and thwarted by his own awkwardness. At an emotional low point, Jeremy is confronted in the bathroom by his bully Rich (Nat Kalish), who reveals the secret to his popularity: a SQUIP, or ingestible, pill-sized computer implanted in his brain that tells him how to be “cool.” However, once Jeremy acquires his own SQUIP (Mikey Pacitti), he begins to wonder whether the cost of his newfound popularity is worth it.

At first, I have to admit I was a little unsure about the production. The $8 ticket cost for Hopkins affiliates threw me off — in the back of my mind, I kept imagining the Chipotle burrito I could have purchased with that money instead. Not only that, but for the first couple musical numbers, I had a hard time hearing the performers over the live band. I was a little worried I would have to lip-read to understand what was being sung.

However, the audio quality did improve, and the energy of the production really picked up when Pacitti took the stage. Their commanding presence and whole-hearted commitment to their role as Jeremy’s SQUIP were infectious and took the musical to the next level. Even when they weren’t singing or speaking, their sinister facial expressions were hilarious and showstopping. I also loved Amaiya Santiago’s role as Chloe, the popular dance captain. They fully embodied and performed “Do You Wanna Hang?”, which is no small feat, especially in a Barnstormers debut.

I also thought Li did a great job as Christine. Her voice was clear and pretty, her high notes crisp and piercing. I don’t know much about singing, but she sounded consistently great throughout the entire production, especially on the number “A Guy That I’d Kinda Be Into.” I also thought Elsman’s performance of “Michael in the Bathroom” was extremely moving. Elsman was a great storyteller through his singing and did an amazing job building and expressing the emotional weight of the song.

This musical was so creative and unique. It was a wild ride from top to bottom, and the actors were convincing enough in their performances that I trusted them to guide me through all the craziness. SQUIPs exist and take the form of pop culture icons like Keanu Reeves? Of course. They can only be activated when taken with green Mountain Dew and are deactivated with red Mountain Dew? Obviously. I found myself smiling and laughing throughout the entire production.

As a side note, I also have to say that the product placement of Mountain Dew in this production was such an effective advertisement. Honestly, I am not usually a Mountain Dew person. This may be a hot take, but there’s something off-putting to me about their bright colors and the dubious abbreviation of “Mountain” into “Mtn.” No, thanks. If I’m going to die, it’s not going to be death by fluorescent carbonated beverage. However, even I started reconsidering my position (as long as it’s red Mountain Dew). 

Even if musicals aren’t your cup of tea, I would definitely recommend giving Be More Chill a try. If you can shell out the money, it’s a really fun and entertaining way to spend a couple hours. It was obvious how much time and work went into this musical, and it would be a shame to miss.


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