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'Be More Chill' review: A nerd becomes too cool for school

Will Roland, last on Broadway in "Dear Evan Hansen," is a powerhouse as Jeremy, a vocal force with impeccable timing and impressive energy.

Locust Valley's Will Roland, front, finds his groove

Locust Valley's Will Roland, front, finds his groove in "Be More Chill." Photo Credit: Maria Baranova

WHAT “Be More Chill”

WHERE Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St.

INFO Tickets, from $49, at telecharge.com, 212-239-6200

BOTTOM LINE The internet sensation gets a Broadway upgrade that gives it more universal appeal.

It's tempting to call timeout on shows about high school loners and losers. But as "Be More Chill" enters this crowded arena, you have to acknowledge a show that truly understands its demographics. 

The latest entry in the teen angst parade just opened at the Lyceum Theatre with a high-octane pop score by Garden City native Joe Iconis that comes at you full blast, the rock concert vibe and universal emotional appeal sure to keep loyal fans snapping up for tickets for years. As for everyone else, the unique sci-fi twist (Joe Tracz's book is inspired by Ned Vizzini's 2004 young adult novel) makes for a story with far broader appeal.  

We meet the nerdy "loser geek" Jeremy (Will Roland, who grew up in Locust Valley) in his bedroom, trying to download some porn before he heads to school, where the predictable bunch of tormentors awaits — the bully, the jock, a couple of popular blondes, you know the drill. 

Salvation arrives in the form of a squip (humanized by a truly creepy Jason Tam, channeling Keanu Reeves in "The Matrix"), a quantum computer in pill form that implants in the brain and basically takes over. Suddenly popular, Jeremy runs with the cool crowd, but things don’t go all that well until, as the last song suggests, he learns to listen to the other voices in his head, the ones there all along. 

Roland, last on Broadway in "Dear Evan Hansen," is a powerhouse as Jeremy, a vocal force with impeccable timing and impressive energy. And he gets fine backup from the rest of the 10-person cast, directed in full-speed-ahead style by Stephen Brackett, with notable performances from Stephanie Hsu as the theater kid who’s Jeremy’s dream girl, and George Salazar, his best friend whose poignant "Michael in the Bathroom" almost steals the show.  And praise, as well, to Jason SweetTooth Williams, who admirably plays all the adult roles.  

Much has been written about this heartfelt musical's unlikely road to Broadway, the tiny production in New Jersey, the album that went viral (more than 200 million downloads and counting), the Off-Broadway run that sold out before it opened. And everything's been spruced up for Broadway — the cool computer-screen set by Beowulf Boritt, the outlandish costumes by Bobby Frederick Tilley II, the slick projections by Alex Bosco Koch. As the squip sings near the end of the first act, "you gotta get an upgrade." And with this one, "Be More Chill" gets a fighting chance to stand out in a capacity crowd of musicals about kids who don't feel like they belong. 

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