‘Be More Chill”s Jason Tam
Fans have been waiting with baited breath for Be More Chill to finally arrive in New York, and their wishes have come true. Joe Iconis and Joe Tracz’s new musical about a New Jersey teenager who swallows a microchip called “The Squip” to fit in among his peers is now in previews with an opening set for August 9.
The show has been kicking around online for years, slowly and steadily building a cult-like following. Based on the novel by Ned Vizzini, the musical draws inspiration from sci-fi, horror, and teen films (think Little Shop of Horrors meets The Breakfast Club). According to producers, last year Tumblr ranked Be More Chill as the number two most talked-about musical on their platform, following Hamilton.
Jason Tam joins the cast as The Squip, a digital-age role unlike anything he’s ever played before. Jason made his Broadway debut as a Gavroche replacement in the original production of Les Misérables and has since appeared on Broadway in the revival of A Chorus Line (Paul), Lysistrata Jones (Xander), IF/THEN (David), as well as providing the community voiceover for Dear Evan Hansen. Jason chatted with Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler about his latest theatrical venture.
Be More Chill has had a long road to New York and the creative team has been tenacious in its efforts. How did you become involved with the production?
It came about through my professional relationship with Joe Iconis (music and lyrics) and also producer Jennifer Ashley Tepper. I’ve been doing concerts with Joe for more than 10 years, back at Ars Nova (before people knew about that venue!) as well as a workshop of a show of his called The Black Suits at the Public Theater. I learned how to play guitar, which was so much fun and we remained close ever since.
You’re playing a virtual character. As Stanislavski would say, “What’s your motivation?”
The main character Jeremy takes a pill, which is really an implanted computer chip and I’m a visual representation of that. He can see me but nobody else, but I can see the world and see everyone else, which makes for interesting circumstances.
The conflict is easy to play — the goal is to assist him, to be a helper and give the gift of making life as easy as possible. It’s easy to connect with from a place of kindness, of giving back to the world. Jeremy is just in dire straights. He’s shy and sloppy and doesn’t take care of himself.
The show has science-fiction elements with the lead character swallowing a pill to be more “chill” – but that technology isn’t too far off. What do you think the more significant message is about how we lose sight of ourselves amid outside influences?
We’re entering unchartered territory with technology advancing to make things easier but that can be harnessed for ulterior motives.
We’re exploring what we are willing to give up to get what we want — and not necessarily in a good way. How we let go of our integrity, our most authentic self to be the way we think we have to be to get what we want from the world
The show also celebrates accepting who you are, and once you do that how you’re able to find your niche in the world. My friend Linsday Mendez won a Tony Award [Carousel] this year and said in her acceptance speech: be your truest self and the world will take notice.
You recently appeared in NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, which was epic on every scale and an intersection of your career in theater and television. What was most memorable about that experience?
So many things that made it cool for me! I loved working with director David Leveaux. He’s so smart and also so kind and open to collaboration. And the cast — John Legend, Sara Bareilles, and Brandon Victor Dixon were all so kind. I went up to Sara to compliment her at rehearsal and she immediately gave me a huge hug. It really lifted up the Broadway community. I knew it’d be cool but I was surprised by how much fun I had.
You spent a number of years on One Life to Live. Have you ever considered moving to Los Angeles to pursue more film and television?
I’ve had wildly mediocre results during my time in LA. New York City and the people here are my home — this is the place for me.
Be More Chill
The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
Through September 23
Vintage Jason Tam!
Check out his original audition for A Chorus Line and how he wowed the creative team.
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Read more of his work at wexlerwrites.com.