No, it’s not a great musical, or even a particularly good one.
Like so many, it has an acceptable first act, which is almost always a signal that the second act will be woefully worse.
What makes BEETLEJUICE more than sit-through-able, though, is an exemplary cast. They main performers are worth watching even with material that is far beneath them.
Do give credit to librettists Scott Brown and Anthony King for bringing in the character of Beetlejuice – and the talents of Alex Brightman – into the project much earlier than Michael Keaton appears in the 1988 film. The spirited spirit is part narrator, part emcee and has better teeth than Keaton was forced to flash.
After Beetlejuice tells us that this is “a show about death,” he divulges right up front that Adam and Barbara, the couple on which the plot centers, will die. The four writers who created the film were wiser to make this a surprise.
Brightman moves with the ease of a ghost and matter-of-factly expresses the bisexuality the new authors have given him. He does delightfully well by his patter songs (although he gets one too many) but delivers them in a voice that sounds as if he’s been gargling with razor blades. For one brief shining moment, he drops the artificial voice and gives us his real one. It’s a welcome respite. What a shame that the writers and director Alex Timbers didn’t allow him to use it all night long. They instead make him scald his vocal cords; they may never be the same after the run of this show.
(It’ll probably be quite a long one, if the audience at the performance I attended was any indication.)
Time out for a story: in 1967, a young miss who was born Vicki Ann Alexrad wrote a celebrity and stated that a reporter thought that she resembled her. Then she asked the star to attend a contest in which the teen was competing. Carol Burnett said yes to the lass who’d already been renamed Vicki Lawrence. Because Burnett had been thinking of hiring someone to play her sister in sketches – and was impressed by Lawrence’s talent – she chose her.
Why is this worth mentioning in a review of BEETLEJUICE? If Leslie Kritzer had been alive then and had written that letter, she would have had Vicki Lawrence’s career. Not that she needs it; this generation’s Carol Burnett is doing just fine on her own.
The authors have made her character a life-coach as well as a possible life-partner of Charles (the house’s new owner played by the underused Adam Dannheisser). These changes offer many more comic possibilities. Kritzer has timing that’s impeccable whenever she must deliver a laugh-line. Her efforts – nay, achievements – get her a long line of laughs from the audience. Kritzer even makes a funny moment out of the way she eases herself into a chair.
Adam and Barbara are this generation’s Brad and Janet. As is the case with the squares from THE ROCKY HORROR (PICTURE) SHOW, these two are equally naïve and are thrust into a world they didn’t particularly want to visit. Rob McClure and Kerry Butler beautifully play the nerds who want their house back but find that substantially easier said than done. Still, each gets a chance to show what each character is are made of.
The BEETLEJUICE film is still famous for its special effects, which Broadway could never hope to replicate. And yet, McClure gets one of the most startling ones that any stage show has ever seen (and, yes, that does include HARRY POTTER). You’ll be talking about it for weeks afterward – as you will about all the performances.
That includes Sophia Anne Caruso, who portrays Lydia, Charles’ Goth daughter who sees the ghosts that no one else can. At the moment, Caruso is not much older than Liesl in THE SOUND OF MUSIC – she’s 17 going on 18, to be specific – although she does have a Lucille Lortel nomination, which she snagged when she was 13.
When she’s surrounded by the far more experienced pros with considerable stage dust on their feet, Caruso does appear a tad green. When she’s all alone center stage, especially when belting out a song, she reminds you of what an achiever she is. How courageous of Timbers to trust her as the lead in the show – and if there’s any doubt that she is, wait until the curtain calls and see her get the last bow.
The Act Two opener made me check my Playbill to see if Tim Minchin of MATILDA and GROUNDHOG DAY fame had written the score. Those two Broadway outings started their second acts with a number that was totally irrelevant to the plot; so was this one was here. But no, Eddie Perfect is the composer-lyricist who wrote the amiable pop tunes with lyrics that seldom rhyme.
Near the end of the show, Brightman promises us a sequel.
No, thanks. By then, he’s twice disparaged, of all things, BRIGADOON. It just so happens that in the next 18 months, the Lerner-Loewe classic, which will then be 73 years old, will receive dozens of productions literally from sea (Freeport, Maine this August) to shining sea (San Bruno, California next January).
Let’s see how many theaters will be offering BEETLEJUICE in 2092. After all, Brightman, Kritzer, McClure, Butler and perhaps even Caruso won’t be around to help.