Like Mean Girls and Spongebob Squarepants, Beetlejuice is one of those entertainment properties that was never exactly begging to be turned into a musical. The source material—Tim Burton’s 1988 film by the same name—is a near-perfect, and largely tuneless, cult classic. Why set it to music?
Well, this is 2019, and, if it isn’t already clear by now, no stone will go left unturned by the Broadway-industrial complex. Today, the question is not whether but rather when your favorite film, TV show, or candy will get its 15 minutes on the Great White Way. Judging by the throngs of gothic cosplayers lining up outside the Winter Garden Theater, it may be that Beetlejuice’s moment is actually long overdue.
So what does Beetlejuice, the musical, have to offer? Some largely forgettable tunes, some far less forgettable performances, a killer set, and the sort of high-octane thrills you might you might find at a high-end amusement park.
That aura sets in before the curtain even rises. Kenneth Posner casts a green glow on the chandeliers and bathes the room in purple and blue light, while smoke billows from the stage, and a great neon “Betelgeuse” sign hangs front and center. Would a “You Must Be This Tall To Ride” sign be entirely out of order?
David Korins’ scenic design only gets more extraordinary from there. Over the course of the show, the dilapidated haunted house at its center—complete with all the wild Burton-eque angles and funhouse stretchiness you’d expect—transforms into a modern monstrosity, and then something literally monstrous, with magical ease. And the tricks keep piling on, including a giant sandworm puppet, shooting flames, and the occasional levitation. It may all seem like a bit much, but early on, the winking, fourth wall-breaking song “Being Dead” provides a reassuring hint that the show’s creators are in on the joke.
The ringmaster of the madcap spectacle is Alex Brightman, the actor who most recently had the onerous task of taking on Jack Black’s role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock musical adaptation. In Beetlejuice, he once again finds himself with big shoes to fill as the show’s title character. He nonetheless succeeds once again, imbuing the scuzzy poltergeist made iconic by Michael Keaton with the abandon and unbridled energy of someone who’s just chugged a couple Vodka Red Bulls.
Equally hard-working is the 17-year-old Sophia Anne Caruso. She takes up Winona Rider’s mantle as Lydia, the acerbic, ghost-friendly goth who teams up with the recently-deceased couple Adam (Rob McClure) and Barbara (Kerry Butler) to boot her father Charles (Adam Dannheisser) and his life coach girlfriend Delia (Leslie Kritzer) out of their newly-purchased home. Caruso has impressive singing chops, and takes on the role’s cynical posture seamlessly, but in songs like “Dead Mom” she’s forced to be more saccharine than sardonic.
Beetlejuice isn’t at its best when it’s trying to tug at the heartstrings. The story, like many of Burton’s creations, is most effective when it’s satirizing America’s out-of-touch bourgeois, and this cast is up to the task. When, possessed by Adam and Barbara, the whole group of the buffoonish living suddenly burst into “Day-O” in the middle of a dinner party, the scene is just as funny as it is in the movie. It goes to show that while the specter of the original may haunt Beetlejuice, it’s not enough to scare off what makes the tale so good.