The cast of 'Be More Chill' performing on BroadwayYoutube/TheatreMania

The power of musical theatre soundtracks is exemplified by the recent seven month Broadway run of the Internet’s musical of choice: Be More Chill. The show had an unconventional route to Broadway, hardly unexpected given the unconventional nature of its production.

Based on the 2004 novel of the same name by Ned Vizzini, the musical tells the story of an unpopular high-schooler called Jeremy who eats a supercomputer called a Squip. The Squip then gives rise to a simulation of Keanu Reeves inside his mind that tells him how to be cool. When the musical first ran off-off-Broadway in 2015, it didn’t look like the show had legs; and, it seemed as though the decision to just record a soundtrack and then call it a day was made… that is, until the internet dredged up this plucky musical’s cast recording.

The year was 2017, early 2017, and the Internet unearthed the cast recording of this slightly bizarre musical, suddenly a fandom was born, and a fandom it sure is. Alongside Hamilton, and Heathers, Be More Chill has one of the largest fanbases of any musical today; and this huge fandom desperately wanted to hear the songs in context. After all, although the Wikipedia synopsis was decent, a few hundred words on a website will never be able replicate how the lights go down, the intonation of a line of dialogue, or perhaps most crucially, the staging. Plus, the tenet that music is better live applies to musicals too, crescendos pop more when complemented by kickass lighting effects, and sad songs are sadder when you can see the actor. 

Likely bolstered by it’s tenacious online following, Be More Chill was given a two month run off-Broadway in 2018 which sold out in hours, resulting in the musical’s Broadway debut in 2019. Is it a flawless musical? In my opinion, no. So then why did it amass such a following? The answer is one song on the soundtrack Michael in the Bathroom sung by Jeremy’s best friend: Michael. This extremely literally named song chronicles Michael having a panic attack in a bathroom.

The reason, in my view, why this somewhat unusual song became so popular is because it gave a whole group of people who, like Michael, felt isolated and trapped, words with which to express the way they were feeling. Finally, a certain group of people felt seen within a medium that they loved.


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Personally, I remember listening to the song for the first time and almost bursting into tears. Theatre has always been an escape for me, and when I’m listening to a soundtrack, it feels as though there’s this abstract wall of protection between me and everything else. I had never expected any musical theatre song to be able to truly express exactly how I was feeling at the time, but this one did did. For me, like thousands of others Michael in the Bathroom hit very close to home.

Listening to soundtracks is a very effective form of escapism – not only do you have the music itself to escape into but you also have a story and characters to relate to. But musical theatre becomes so much more than mere escapism when used to highlight how people feel, especially in the case of feelings we often (perhaps wrongly) try to hide. The communities that build up around soundtracks not only impact what shows get produced on a Broadway level, but can also offer something really meaningful to those who desperately need people to talk to, even if it’s just about who their Squip would be.