June 9, 2015

Teenage angst: the grief that just keeps on giving, to popular culture, at least. The woes of the misfit and the wallflower, the snooty brutishness of the jocks and the mean girls have been a bottomless well of material for television, movies and books for decades, and the well shows no signs of running dry. Finding novelty in such a well-worn genre becomes the challenge. “Be More Chill,” an energetic if still familiar-feeling new musical based on the young-adult novel by Ned Vizzini, updates the classic nerd-who-yearns-for-popularity story by adding a sci-fi twist. Jeremy (Will Connolly), the skinny geek protagonist, becomes transformed into the cynosure of his high school’s popular crowd when his persona is tweaked, or upgraded, as one of the songs announces, after he ingests a mysterious Japanese pill. The show, making its premiere at the Two River Theater here, features music and lyrics by Joe Iconis, who supplied songs for the second season of NBC’s “Smash,” and a book by Joe Tracz. It introduces Jeremy in a song announcing his mild ambitions: “I don’t want to be a hero/ Just wanna stay in the line/ I’ll never be a Rob De Niro/ For me, Joe Pesci is fine.” But his desire to shine is supercharged by a wicked crush on a perky girl named Christine (Stephanie Hsu); so desperate is he for her attention that he finds the courage to sign up for the school play — ever the mark of a loser in most high schools. (Although, thanks to “Glee,” this has begun to feel so 20th century.)