It’s one thing to be told that the Off Broadway musical “Be More Chill” is a viral hit on the internet. It’s quite another to experience the hype live and in the room, where the audience explodes like it’s at a rock concert — or at another musical that’s playing just a few blocks away.
“People have said to me, Oh my god, I feel like I’m in ‘Hamilton,’ as far as the audience reaction,” said composer Joe Iconis on the latest episode of Variety‘s theater podcast, “Stagecraft.” “And that is not incorrect! We have the reaction of a megahit show, without having actually had the megahit show first.”
The musical, created by Iconis (“Smash”) and book writer Joe Tracz and based on a sci-fi-inflected YA novel, premiered in a 2015 production in New Jersey. It ran for a month, got a so-so review in the New York Times, and that was that — until fans discovered the show’s songs online and turned the cast album into a viral sensation.
That enthusiasm prompted commercial producers to take a chance on the show in a run that sold out quickly and has attracted audiences from around the country and the world. It all sounds like a young composer’s dream come true — but don’t ask Iconis to how he did it.
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“I could not tell you how one goes about doing it,” he said of creating a show that becomes a sensation. “I certainly did not try. I didn’t set out to write a viral grassroots musical. It just kind of happened.”
On “Stagecraft,” Iconis, who’s long been a musical theater composer to watch, also talked finding community, being a messy writer, what’s next for him — and why he’s such a stickler for exact rhyme.
New episodes of “Stagecraft” are available every other Tuesday in July, August, and September, and then weekly beginning in October. Download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on iTunes, Stitcher, or anywhere finer podcasts are dispensed. Find past episodes here and on Apple Podcasts.