Want to replicate the experience of seeing the pre-Broadway tryout of the musical version of Beetlejuice in the comfort of your home? Just pound down 19 espressos with a pound of candy chaser.
Frantic, hyped up to manic levels and filled with more pelvic thrusts than a rendition of “The Time Warp” playing on an endless loop, the new Beetlejuice musical takes Tim Burton’s endearingly bizarre 1988 horror-comedy movie and turns it into a reflection of our current times—crass, violent and appealing to the lowest common denominator.
Despite cheeky, inspired performances by Broadway veterans Kerry Butler, Alex Brightman, Rob McClure, Adam Dannheisser and Leslie Kritzer, Beetlejuice is a loud, off-putting mishmash of the visual artistry and sense of gleeful anarchy that made the movie such a darkly funny classic.
Fans of the movie will no doubt cheer to the nods to the movie—Michael Curry’s puppets vividly replicate Burton’s scary monster and sandworm universe, William Ivey Long’s costumes capture the cartoony gallows humor of the film and many of Beetlejuice’s immortal lines are uttered onstage, but everything is so busy their impact is somewhat squandered.
Movie purists may balk at the musical’s changes, reflected in the book by Scott Brown and Anthony King that makes you wonder why they thought they needed to update and expand the original story, which depicted a battle for dream home ownership between Barbara (Kerry Butler) and Adam (Rob McClure) Maitland, a recently dead suburban couple, and Charles (Adam Dannheisser) and Delia (Leslie Kritzer, just delicious) Deetz a living family from New York with a brooding, Goth teenage girl, Lydia (Sophia Anne Caruso). The Maitlands hire the demon Beetlejuice (Alex Brightman), to help scare the Deetz’s out of their house. When it is discovered that macabre-obsessed Lydia can see dead people, Beetlejuice uses it to his demonic advantage to wreak havoc upon the already haunted house.
In the Broadway version, Beetlejuice is thrust front and center. And I mean thrust. Beetlejuice is part satyr, part crepuscular fiend with a foul mouth and a penchant for potty humor and phallic jokes that your average fourth grader may find puerile. This is a show where people sing about frights that turn white underpants “brown,” and penis jokes that pervade the set and even a roasted boar that comes to life with a squiggly pig’s tail penis that waggles alarmingly close to the female characters’open mouths. Not to mention a bit where leering men chase a Girl Scout licking their chops like cartoon wolves and a running gag (pun intended) where Beetlejuice calls for an orgy, like it’s the 60s and Plato’s Retreat is in full swing.
closes November 18, 2018
Details and tickets
Lest you think this critic is Schoolmarm Sally, I thought Book of Mormon was a profane hoot with touches of demented genius. That’s what may be missing from Beetlejuice—that naughty sense of “Oh my God, look what we just got away with!” and musical numbers with roots in classic Broadway gone in a wildly inappropriate, but somewhat liberating direction.
Although some of Eddie Perfect’s lyrics are clever, his music is derivative and unassuming, as if ticking off a Broadway check list. Rock anthem-check. Saccharine ballads-check. Country ditty—check. Cakewalk-check. Nothing is brought to the table here except chaos, the “let’s throw everything up on stage and see what sticks” approach to musical production.
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There’s a feeling of hysterical desperation in Beetlejuice to be topical and current, but many of the efforts fall flat, like a boy band (like, so 90s) serving as greeters and guides to the netherworld and having Lydia sing like all those Disney Channel veterans, female pop stars like Ariana Grande and the like—pitchy, nasal and noodling every lyric so that even something as simple as the word “home” becomes “ho-o-o-whoa-o-oh-oh-oh-o-o-o-o-o-o-ooh-ooh-ooh-ome.” I know that makes me a geezer, but between the nasal singing and the noodling the effect is like a dental drill.
Much talent and effort has gone into the musical Beetlejuice, , but a reason for being, a plot with a current through-line and musical ingenuity gets lost in the madness.
Beetlejuice . Music and lyrics by Eddie Perfect, book by Scott Brown and Anthony King . Director: Alex Timbers. Choreography: Connor Gallagher. Orchestrations: Kris Kukul. Sets: David Korins. Costumes: William Ivey Long. Lighting: Kenneth Posner. Sound: Peter Hylenski. Projections: Peter Negrini. Puppets: Michael Curry. Special Effects: Jeremy Chernick. Illusions: Michael Weber. Physical Movement Coordinator: Lorenzo Pisoni.
Featuring: Alex Brightman, Sophia Anne Caruso. Kerry Butler, Rob McClure, Adam Dannheisser, Leslie Kritzer, Jill Abramovitz, Danny Rutigliano, Dana Steingold, Johnny Brantley III, Ryan Breslin, Elliott Mattox, Ramone Owens, Devin L. Roberts. Presented at The National Theatre . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.