The Guy Behind ‘Be More Chill’ Is Keeping It in the Family


“We shared that feeling — when is this going to happen, and should we just go be investment bankers?” Mr. Williams said. “What got him and all of us through these struggling times were these concerts that we did together.”

There’s been some blowback. “I definitely have a reputation of being very loyal, and that’s important to me — I love creating art with artists I have a history and a relationship with,” Mr. Iconis said. “But there was this notion of me as a frat boy working with his college friends. People got so insane about this idea of me just working with my buds.”

He is unapologetic about wanting to advance his collaborators, and not simply allow them to be replaced by “someone who was on a TV show in 2003,” which is how he often sees theater casting. “Many people have performed my stuff brilliantly for years, and I feel like it’s my responsibility to do whatever I can to help,” he said.

George Salazar, an actor who was featured in a Broadway revival of “Godspell” when he met Mr. Iconis, started singing in his concerts, and is now starring in “Be More Chill” as the protagonist’s best friend; his emotional rendition of the show’s big number, “Michael in the Bathroom,” has made him an internet sensation.

“The Family is a group of misfits,” Mr. Salazar said, “but the things that make us strange and different are the very things Joe enjoys.”

Mr. Iconis likes to write in public spaces — coffee shops and bars — away from the piano, focusing on lyric and drama, and letting that drive melody. He has been prolific, helping to create 10 full-length musicals, but has also been increasingly disappointed that none found commercial success, and at times has even wondered whether he should try to convert one of his side jobs, graphic design, into a full-time career.

“He’s had a tough time getting shows on, because people don’t know where to place his shows — they have a childlike exuberance for adults,” said Julianne Boyd, the artistic director of Barrington Stage.

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