Winter Garden Theatre, NYC, April 26, 2019

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Photos: Matthew Murphy

Alex Brightman & Sophia Anne Caruso

Have a fondness for cult films? Prefer your music earsplitting enough to wake the dead? Can you see yourself “gettin’ comfy with the whole being dead thing?” Okay, the movie-to-musical Beetlejuice might be just your good-time Mai Tai. The madcap sprint through the scenes is totally nonsensical, but with flash and dash, wacky visuals, Eddie Perfect’s off-the-deep-end pop score, and the enthusiasm of Alex Brightman (School of Rock) driving the show, Beetlejuice is certainly an experience.

Brightman plays Beetlejuice, a consummate depraved gadabout ghost who admits that this musical version is “a bold departure from the original source material.” The labyrinthine story is adapted from the film by Scott Brown and Anthony King, and Beetlejuice is a ghost who interferes and narrates the story. But, played by Brightman, he is a non-stop sparkplug who dances, sings, and chatters with astonishing energy. Singing, Brightman uses a technique of ventricular fold phonation, which he claims allows him to safely switch to the trademark Beetlejuice growl and back again to his normal singing voice.

Leslie Kritzer & Adam Dannheisser

As a poltergeist, he is invisible and what he wants most is to get a living person to look his way and say his name three times in a row; then they will actually see him. He begins looking for people who are about to die. Sophia Anne Caruso (Blackbird) plays Lydia, a teenager grieving for her mother who just died. She misses her mother terribly, especially now that she must move into a new house with her father, Charles (Adam Dannheisser) and his fiancee, Delia, who is Lydia’s life coach. Delia is played with ditzy charm by Leslie Kritzer (Something Rotten!), who also doubles as the late, great Miss Argentina.

The house they buy is haunted by its former owners, a nerdy couple, Adam and Barbara Maitland, played with perky buoyancy by Rob McClure (Chaplin) and Kerry Butler (Xanadu), two actors who shine in any part they are handed. When the Maitlands accidentally die but are not yet really “gone” (don’t overthink this, dying is a process), Beetlejuice moves in, working to get them to haunt the house and get Lydia’s dad and Delia to see him and say his name. Lydia already feels invisible since she is so sad, because nobody pays attention to sad people. She can see the Maitlands and joins them in the attic, learning to haunt and spook Charles and Delia. In a credible Broadway debut, 17-year-old Caruso sings Lydia’s heartfelt ballads to her mother (“Dead Mom”). However, she is overshadowed by the onslaught of visuals and blaring music. Perfect’s pop/rock score does not quite move the story ahead, but it is exuberant and the lyrics are often funny. Still, two old songs from the original 1988 film are the high points, “Day-O” (“The Banana Boat Song”) and “Jump in the Line” (“Shake, Señora).”

Sophia Anne Caruso, Rob McClure, Kerry Butler

Expect to follow a plot? Don’t even bother; just watch the effects. Director Alex Timbers handles the sizable cast, who are in creatively funny costumes by William Ivey Long. With manic action and Connor Gallagher’s imaginative choreography, they are bombarded with Peter Nigrini’s vivid projections, Jeremy Chernick’s endless special effects, and illusion designs by Michael Weber. Michael Currey’s puppets pop out to shake up any standstill moment. The set is designed by David Korins with Kenneth Posner’s lighting and full-volume sound designs by Peter Hylenski, all adding up to a stage packed with everything including the kitchen sink. 

Brightman throws his energy full force into any character he takes on, Caruso is a new talent to watch, and the cast is praiseworthy. The show holds nothing back and all in all, Beetlejuice offers sane advice about living life to the fullest. “Enjoy the singing/The sword of Damocles is swinging” because at the end, “We shoulda carpe’d way more diems/ Now we’re never gonna see ’em.”

Elizabeth Ahlfors

Born and raised in New York, Elizabeth graduated from NYU with a degree in Journalism. She has lived in various cities and countries and now is back in NYC. She has written magazine articles and published three books: A Housewife’s Guide to Women’s Liberation, Twelve American Women, and Heroines of ’76 (for children). A great love was always music and theater—in the audience, not performing. A Philadelphia correspondent for and InTheatre Magazine, she has reviewed theater and cabaret for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia City News. She writes for Cabaret Scenes and other cabaret/theater sites. She is a judge for Nightlife Awards and a voting member of Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.