GMTWP Alum Joe Iconis (Cycle 14) will make his Broadway debut this year.
Congrats on the upcoming Broadway production of BE MORE CHILL! It seems that there one direct path to Broadway. Can you briefly describe the journey of BE MORE CHILL making it to the Great White Way?
[JOE]: Be More Chill has proven to me that there is not one direct path to Broadway. I’ve always thought that for the sort of shows I wanted to write, the path would be getting produced at a fancy Non-Profit off-Broadway theater, having a super-famous commercial producer attached, getting a glowing a review from the NY Times, and transferring to Broadway on a wave of traditional musical theater momentum. None of that happened with Be More Chill and we still ended up on Broadway.
The story of how Be More Chill has arrived at the Lyceum in February is much written-about and imminently google-able, but the slightly-more-honest gist is that we opened at the glorious Two River Theater in Red Bank, NJ in June 2015. We had a ton of momentum going into the production (that kind of thing has happened to me many times in my career where people involved with a show or people surrounding it have dubbed it “the next big thing!” leading up to its actual opening) and lots of commercial producers were coming to see it and audiences loved it and everything seemed positive and hopeful and we opened and got a dismissive review from a lead NY Times critic and it was all over. Interest in the show turned to an immediate zero. Kurt Deutsch from Ghostlight Records, who has produced all of my albums before and after Be More Chill, saw the show, loved it, and felt like the score deserved to be preserved. Two River Theater was immensely proud of the show and also felt like it should be preserved. Kurt and Ghostlight made a cast recording, Two River paid for the whole thing, we recorded just after closing in July 2015 and released the record on Halloween 2015. The recording sat, as recordings of a new musicals based on cult novels that play for four weeks in New Jersey often do, not attracting a whole lot of attention for two and half years.
In the spring of 2017, something amazing happened. Kids started discovering the show on their own. They started telling each other about it. The rest is, now, history. A part of the story that doesn’t get written about a whole lot is the part where we had an absolute viral sensation on our hands and producers still wouldn’t touch the show. Myself and my agent pounded the pavement for months, even after our cast album was being streamed more than every other Broadway musical that wasn’t called Dear Evan Hansen or Hamilton. The magic thing was finding our producer, Jerry Goehring, who took a real chance on the show. I’d known Jerry for years (we’ve been working on another project together) and if he didn’t agree to take the leap with us and if he didn’t believe in the vision myself and my collaborators had for the show, none of this would have happened. He was the right person at the right time and his guiding principle was allowing me to work with the artists I wanted.
The show had an extremely successful, sold-out run Off-Broadway. What have been the different challenges of moving the version of the show at Signature Theatre to a Broadway venue?
We have an interesting challenge in that typically when a “little” show moves to Broadway, everyone is very concerned about the show getting lost in a big theater. Our show felt like it was bursting at the seams at The Signature! For Broadway, we’re actually figuring out how to add some more moments of space and silence. We learned that the show has the ability to breathe a little, which is something we hadn’t realized before the off-Broadway premiere. The style of the show is kinetic and maximalist and in your face, and it’s exciting figuring out how to maintain that while also allowing for intimate, authentic, small moments.
BE MORE CHILL seems to very much appeal to younger audiences as the source material centers around a teenager. How has this growing audience response affected the show? What challenges has it posed for you as one of the writers?
I’ve never worked on a show that has such a dedicated fan base, especially a fan base who was so aware and vocal about the specific ins and outs of my music and lyrics. Heading into the off-Broadway production, it was challenging to not second guess. To not think: “How are these very intelligent, very passionate young people react to me changing this one syllable? Will there be rioting? Will the same social media army that gave us life now be the one that destroys us!” What Joe Tracz (my collaborator) and myself eventually decided was we needed to be true to ourselves and our show. We needed to be able to make the sort of changes we would make during any creative process, We trusted that the super fans of the show would get behind any change we made because it was our work that fans fell in love with in the first place. This worked well for us and the reception to the new material off-broadway was nothing but positive.
BE MORE CHILL, coming to Broadway in 2019
What are your hopes for the show--specifically in terms of the Broadway production?
At its core, the show is a celebration of misfits, of people who feel “other” in some way. I love that a show like ours can exist on Broadway and be given a platform to reach audiences who otherwise never heard of it. I want this thing to be seen by the largest amount of human beings possible.
There have been stirrings of a film adaptation of the musical. What is on the horizon for you as well as the show?
Hopefully, the movie version will happen! The musical was heavily inspired by sci-fi and horror films so it seems only fitting that the characters of Be More Chill will find their way to the screen. Beyond that, I’m working on so many new musicals. Desperately trying to get a production of my musical Broadway Bounty Hunter (which played Barrington Stage Company in 2016) on a stage again. I’m working on an entirely original new musical called Love In Hate Nation about a group of young women starting a revolution in a Juvie Hall in 1962. I’m working on a musical about the life of Hunter S. Thompson for La Jolla Playhouse. And a million other things. My dream is to keep working on specific, persnickety, unapologetically original new musicals with artists I love and respect. Currently, I’m living that dream and now that I’ve got it, I have no intention of letting it slip away.