Sophia Anne Caruso, Alex Brightman




By JK Clarke


While most Broadway musicals based on popular movies will inevitably draw comparisons to the original work, that condition applies tenfold to Beetlejuice, which opened last week at the Winter Garden Theatre, with music and lyrics by Eddie Perfect and book by Scott Brown and Anthony King. Beetlejuice, the film, appeared as a hit seemingly out of nowhere in 1988 and was the first full dose of director Tim Burton for audiences (though it was his second film, with Pee-wee’s Big Adventure being his first, in 1985). Burton’s signature style—a lighthearted Gothic horror that seems as influenced by his tenure as a Disney animator as by Edward Gorey (The Ghashlycrumb Tinies) and Charles Addams (The Addams Family)—earned him a dedicated, sometimes fanatical following, especially as he added commercially successful cult classics like Edward Scissorhands, Mars Attacks and The Nightmare Before Christmas to his already impressive resumé. Burton’s devotées are no doubt keeping an anticipatory and keen eye on the Broadway version of Beetlejuice.


Sophia Anne Caruso, Rob McClure, Kerry Butler


Beetlejuice begins as the sad story of a teenage girl, the goth Lydia (Sophia Anne Caruso) whose mother has recently died and who is a bit macabre and obsessed with death. Her father, Charles (Adam Dannheisser) is trying to move on and has taken up with his new “life coach” Delia (the wonderful Leslie Kritzer, who almost steals the show) as they explore a new piece of real estate together—a beautiful Victorian fixer-upper in New England. Problem is, the house is haunted by the prior residents, corny, L.L. Bean-clad Barbara and Adam (sweetly played by Kerry Butler and Rob McClure) who’d fallen through some loose living room floorboards to their death (and here, as in other areas, the story departs from the film). The house is also haunted by the ready-made Faustian bargain, an annoying (and dead) ghoul who goes by the name Beetlejuice (Alex Brighton). This self-centered pest will, for a price, rid you of your earthly irritants by scaring them out of their wits. Lydia, of course, discovers these ghosts and tries to use them to her advantage (i.e. to get her father to dump Delia and move back to NYC). Hilarity ensues, songs are sung.

While the story goes a bit flat, and is harder to follow than the film (and it really does help to know the original story or one gets a bit lost), Brown and King have fun with the dialog, occasionally breaking the fourth wall, and commenting frequently on the world of Broadway, from ringing cell phones to ticket prices. And Brightman, who is routinely relegated to playing also-ran versions of roles originated by talented, manic actors (Jack Black’s role in School of Rock and now Michael Keaton’s), holds his own rather well and is loaded up with tons of delightful zingers and even interacts with audience members to great effect.


Alex Brightman, Rob McClure, Kerry Butler, Sophia Anne Caruso, Leslie Kritzer, Adam Dannheiser


One of the things that caught movie-goers’ attention in the film was the hilarious use of the Harry Belafonte version of “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song),” which is repeated here, but not as effectively. Unfortunately, it’s the best song of the show. One doesn’t walk out humming any of Perfect’s less-than-memorable songs, except perhaps while noting that one or two bear a striking resemblance to a couple songs in Be More Chill, playing a few Broadway blocks away. Zeitgeist? One hopes.

Aside from Brightman and Kritzer, none of the performances really jump, mostly because the otherwise talented actors bring very little life or dimension to their characters. But the show succeeds—at least from a delighted audience standpoint—in Alex Timbers’ able direction of several mad-cap scenarios (including an animated suckling pig). And, far more importantly, it succeeds because of David Korins’s fabulous, vivid set; William Ivey Long’s phantasmagorical costumes; Michael Curry’s puppetry; and Kenneth Posner’s terrific, haunted-house lighting. Beetlejuice is a Broadway crowd pleaser that does what it sets out to do: provide a visually pleasing reminder of an old favorite. To look any deeper would be a mistake.


Beetlejuice. Open run at the Winter Garden Theatre (1634 Broadway, between 50th and 51st Street). Running time: two hours, 40 minutes, with one intermission.


Photos: Matthew Murphy