Joe Iconis, creator of the Broadway show “Be More Chill,” posing backstage.

Joe Iconis is a lot like the main character in Broadway’s Be More Chill. This makes sense: he wrote the music and lyrics for the show, and he describes himself as a nerd who longed to be part of his Long Island high school’s popular crowd. Instead, he was a show tune–obsessed piano player. “My parents didn’t know what to do with me,” he says. But, he notes, they knew enough to bring him into New York City to see shows. “Even though I was frightened of my own shadow, I felt at home in the city,” Iconis says. And as high school drew to an end and college beckoned, he says, “NYU felt correct to me.”

“I feel like there are NYU types—specific, passionate human beings who like New York City.”
The cast and creators of “Be More Chill” posing backstage.
Former NYU-ers in the show’s green room. (Seated, left to right: Lauren Marcus, Joe Iconis, Stephanie Hsu, and Jennifer Ashley Tepper; standing, left to right: Will Roland, Jason Tam, and Stephen Brackett.)

But coolness eluded Joe Iconis in college, too. As an undergraduate studying music composition at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, “I was pretty quiet,” he recalls. “But the number one thing that expanded my world was the proximity to theatre.” However, it wasn’t until the summer after earning his Bachelor of Music degree and before starting the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at the Tisch School of the Arts that Iconis says, “I came into my own.” Tisch is also where Iconis found several creative partners. There, he met Joe Tracz, who ultimately wrote the book for Be More Chill. “I feel like there are NYU types—specific, passionate human beings who like New York City. Those are just the people I gravitate toward.”

The “Be More Chill” sign in front of the Lyceum Theatre.

In fact, Be More Chill is the product of eight NYU alums besides Joe Iconis. Jason Tam (Tisch ’05), Will Roland (Steinhardt ’11), Lauren Marcus (Steinhardt ’07), and Stephanie Hsu (Tisch ’12) performed in the Broadway cast. Stephen Brackett (Tisch ’02) directed it. Jennifer Ashley Tepper (Tisch ’08) produced it. Joe Tracz (Tisch ’09) wrote the book. And Danielle Gimbal (Steinhardt ’12) assisted with the music. Though the show is no longer on Broadway (it closed in August 2019 after 30 previews and 177 performances), Iconis still feels blessed. “Having a show I care about play Broadway was a dream of mine since I was a child,” he says. “Our little musical, not based on a brand, featuring original show tunes and a cast who reflect the world we live in, has introduced so many young people to the theatre. And for that, I am so beyond grateful.”