Final Bow: George Salazar Thinks Michael Mell Will Be Cool in College
Salazar reflects on four years of Be More Chill, a show that helped him recognize that art can change lives.
George Salazar has been singing "Michael in the Bathroom" for more than four years. He estimates that he's performed the song, a now-iconic anthem by Joe Iconis, over 600 times. And yet, he says he doesn't tire of it. It's helped him understand the power of art in our lives.
In playing Michael Mell in Iconis and Joe Tracz's Be More Chill, first at Two River Theater in 2015, then off-Broadway in 2018, and now at Broadway's Lyceum Theatre through August 11, Salazar has seen firsthand the way the song has changed people's lives. Hearing how impactful it is to real people is the best part of the whole experience, Salazar says, and there's no accolade that could be more satisfying.
1. What is your favorite line that you get to say or sing?
"Michael makes an entrance," hands down.
2. What is your cast's best inside joke?
Will Roland has this uncanny ability to chime in with useless trivial knowledge. It's mind-blowing. We could be talking about chlorine levels in a pool and he'll know the process of how to check the chlorine levels and adjust the chlorine levels. It's pretty superhuman and weird. So Britton Smith came up with a jingle for Will Roland. "Will Roland / he knows everything / Will Roland / he knows all the things."
3. What was the worst technical difficulty you experienced during the run, and how was it handled?
Gerard Canonico was on as Jeremy and he is a very, very sweaty man. He sweated out his mic, and in Act 1, Jeremy never leaves the stage. The sound people are like, "What do we do?" So they sent Joel Waggoner, who was on as Scary Stock Boy, onstage with one of those air dusters, and on his entrance, he came up to Gerard and pulled it out of his hoodie and started spraying Gerard in the face. I had to turn around and was church giggling. My shoulders were shaking. I've never fully broken in that way ever in my career. Then I looked stage right, and everyone was dying laughing. It was the hardest thing to get through, and the smartest way to handle that situation.
4. What is the most interesting present you received at the stage door?
This beautiful charcoal sketch of me singing "Michael in the Bathroom," in gray scale, and the "CREEPS" is in green. It's borderline a presidential portrait. It's hanging in my bathroom, because that made sense.
5. Who is the coolest person to come see the show?
Ben Stiller came to see it off-Broadway because his daughter is a huge Be More Chill fan. He's heard the album a million times. So it was cool, at the off-Broadway stage, to know that Ben Stiller was a fan.
6. How many times do you estimate you've sung "Michael in the Bathroom," how do you not get sick of it, and what is it like, as a performer, to know that you have a signature song?
I've stopped counting, but I'd estimate that I've sung it close to 600 times in performance, over the last four years. I don't get tired of it because it's the type of song that I've always dreamed of getting to sing in a show. Joe has written such an earworm of a song, but it's also such a dynamic piece of music. There's comic relief and heartbreak somehow folded into each other and happening at the same time. I'll never understand how he was able to do that. I feel such an immense honor to sing it. That being said, when we finish our run, I promised myself that I would take at least a six-month "Michael in the Bathroom" hiatus. I think it's totally valid for me to take six months and maybe sing a different song.
7. How were the patches for your costume and backpack selected, and which is your favorite?
Bobby Tilley, the costume designer, is quite possibly one of the most collaborative designers that I've ever encountered. He ran these patches by me and said that he wanted them to feel representative of the person I was creating. It was an effort between both of us to pick things that made sense. When we moved to Broadway, Michael Mell got a new jacket at the end of the show, and Bobby and I picked new patches together. My favorite, on the right lower sleeve, is a stick figure throwing a swastika into a trash can, and it says, "Keep your country clean." No one in the audience can see it, but I love that I can look down and see that image.
8. What is the most meaningful thing you've been told by a Be More Chill fan, either in person or on social media?
When I meet young people of color, especially half-Asian, half-Latino kids, they tell me that I make them feel like they can do anything and that there's a place for them in theater. Having grown up like them, during a time when I didn't see anyone that looked like me doing what I get to do, that is the most powerful thing. No amount of accolades or reviews or awards can match the feeling you get when a stranger looks you in the eye and says that. Seeing the impact that this work has on people's lives has been the highlight of this whole experience.
9. The climax of the show hinges on a bottle of Mountain Dew Red. What's the one retro or discontinued beverage you want to come back into existence?
Surge. Remember Surge? The ad campaign was so violent. It was always like, some sort of hyper guy, not dressed for hiking, doing a cartwheel off a cliff, landing on his feet, and screaming, "SURGE." It was such an angry drink, and I was obsessed with it. I drank more than I probably should have, and I'd love to see Surge come back.
10. Does Michael Mell become cool in college?
Yes. I picture Michael Mell starting a start-up, inventing something revolutionary, and becoming a humanitarian who's all about helping. That's the type of person he is. So I see him becoming totally cool in college, and I'll fight anybody who doesn't.