'Beetlejuice' brings classic film to Broadway stage
Courtesy of Laura Peruchi
Maybe the “Beetlejuice: The Musical” cast doesn’t work all night drinking rum, but the 2019 rendition of Tim Burton’s classic 1988 film is heart-stopping and bone-chilling regardless. Where “Hadestown” swept at the 73rd Annual Tony Awards, “Beetlejuice” has managed to capture the hearts of many with its familiar tunes and new takes on the otherworldly perils that plague Lydia Deetz and the recently deceased couple who are trying to haunt her home. Known for his “School of Rock” Broadway run, Alex Brightman delivers a stunning performance as the titular demon and exemplifies the span of his acting abilities by flipping on a dime from raunchy flirtatious jokes to the heartbroken pleas of a scared child in a way that keeps the audience on their toes.
The musical adaptation gives unexpected depth and warmth to Burton’s original obscene demonic character, with Brightman’s Beetlejuice breaking the fourth wall to interact with the enraptured audience, targeting individual orchestra members for jokes, poking fun at current trends and expanding on one-liners that received an outspoken reaction from the audience.
Opening with a somber ballad, the musical then dives headfirst into an up-tempo song which reminds the audience that the show they are about to witness is all about death. Acting parallel to Brightman in the role of Lydia Deetz, the strange and unusual teen, is 18-year-old Sophia Anne Caruso, known for her roles in NBC’s “Smash” and “The Sound of Music Live.” Clad in black and stomping around in teen angst fashion, her signature song in the show, “Dead Mom,” showcases her breathtaking vocal abilities from the perspective of a child who has recently lost her mother and now feels alone in the world. Though small and unassuming, Caruso’s powerful voice echoes through the theater and takes the audience completely off guard.
Acting as the much-needed undead best friends to Lydia are Kerry Butler and Rob McClure as Barbara and Adam Maitland. The two perfectly encompass the dorky and loveable charm characterized by the Pottery Barn-shopping, minivan-driving, middle-class suburban couple who die in their own home a mere four songs into the show, rather than by driving off of a bridge like in the original film. Their soft, goofy, parental energy sharply contrasts the chaotic persona presented by Brightman, clad in stripes and color-changing hair.
While it may not have won best set design at the 2019 Tony Awards, “Beetlejuice” was a valiant competitor, with quick scene changes of incredibly detailed sets that reflected the personalities of the main characters in each scene. When the Maitlands own the house, the walls are decked in floral wallpaper and the home is later described as resembling a “nursing home.” Then, when the Deetz family takes over the house, it becomes starkly gray, sleek and modernized, accented by the classic artistic monstrosities featured in the original film. Finally, when Beetlejuice commandeers the house, the walls become striped like his signature filthy suit, with disorienting designs, bugs crawling across the ceiling and later, a hyper-realistic dual-headed sandworm. Further, the Winter Garden Theatre gets a full makeover for each performance, with classical golden chandeliers now glowing green and purple to fully immerse the audience in the spookiness of the show and prepare them for their gradual descent into the Netherworld.
The cast of “Beetlejuice: The Musical” delivers a performance that is both heart-wrenching and hilarious. Audience members sympathize with the struggles of the characters one minute and then laugh hysterically over a witty one-liner the next. Coated in nostalgia with a modern twist, the show takes Burton’s classic and expands on it in ways the audience would have never considered, and will leave attendees ranting about the soundtrack all day-o.