Updated: Jul 16
High-Spirited Fun, Wickedly Good Tunes and Eye-Popping Visuals make this Night of the Living Dead a Scream!
JULY 13 — LOS ANGELES
This rib-tickling adaptation of Tim Burton’s much-loved 1988 film (playing now through July 30th at The Pantages in LA) is sure to dispel any thought that the afterlife is simply one unending, undisturbed sleep. Featuring a jaw-dropping gothic funhouse set by David Korins, and grisly lighting by Kenneth Posner, this Broadway tour production, replete with spooky surprises, overstuffed gags, one-liners and visual diversions could give an inexperienced theater-goer uncontrolled laughing seizures.
Directed by a feverishly inventive Alex Timbers, and starring Justin Collette (Brdwy: “School of Rock”) as the manic ghoul of the title, this production proposes that not being alive could be the most fun you'll ever have. It’s a cartoon, but a decently smart one, and while the demon at its center is still as brazen and bawdy as ever — he’s an equal opportunity creeper. He’s just as likely to plant a sloppy, Bugs Bunny-esque kiss on the square Connecticut-dwelling hobbyist Adam Maitland (Will Burton) as on his wife Barbara (Britney Coleman). Pure mischief doesn’t discriminate, and it doesn’t give a flying fandango.
As in the movie, the Maitlands shuffle off their mortal coil early in the action (though this time, without a car). They’re a loving, sheltered couple who didn’t really do much living before dying in an accident in their bourgois New England home, where, as ghosts, they soon encounter the restless demon Beetlejuice. “Yeah, you seem like nice guys / A little on the Pottery Barn–and–dry white wine side,” the wisenheimer ghoul decides. He’s looking for a way to be noticed, to wreak some real havoc in the world of the living (“I’m invisible. Powerless. Like a gay Republican,” he laments as the show begins), and he’ll use both the dead Maitlands and the living family that’s moving into their house to achieve his ends.
Mr. Burton’s original film, which cemented his reputation as a Hollywood moneymaker, had moviegoers swooning for his stylized blend of morbid darkness and cartoon brightness, and it remains a cult favorite to this day. Certainly, no one complained that it was understated.
The biggest objection from its fans was that Michael Keaton’s Beetlejuice — the scurrilous phantom who wreaks havoc among both the living and the dead in a haunted middle-class home — didn’t get enough screen time. So…the creators of this musical adaptation — led by Eddie Perfect (songs) and Scott Brown and Anthony King (book) — multiplied everything people liked about the film ad infinitum, starting with Beetlejuice himself. But, dear fans, be careful what you wish for.
Everything being equal, Mr. Collette and his reinvented madcap performance is the best reason to see “Beetlejuice,” which also stars a talented Isabella Esler as Lydia, his arch-frenemy, a living angsty goth teenager with a death wish.
Coiffed (by wigmaker Charles G. LaPointe) and attired (by William Ivey Long) with a newly punkish edge, this Beetlejuice is no pale imitation of Mr. Keaton or anyone else. Or not one single person. Instead, Director Timbers seems to be channeling the entire ensemble from the early years of “Saturday Night Live,” with a soupçon of Jerry Lewis and Robin Williams at their most frenzied.
One of the show’s high points is Mr. Collette’s opening number, “That Whole Being Dead Thing,” one of the best meta-theatrical songs since “The Book of Mormon.” He materializes in a graveyard, after the funeral for the mother of Lydia (Ms. Esler), who has sung the first of what will be several tedious ballads of bereftness. “Holy crap! A ballad already!” exclaims Beetlejuice. “And such a bold departure from the original source material.” What follows is an extremely lively introduction to the premise that death is indeed a laughing matter, punctuated with dark, rib-jabbing asides. (“If you die during the performance, this show will not stop.”)
So, at the drop of a punch line, the show is suddenly crowded by throngs of ghostly cheerleaders, gospel singers, a dead football team (for a sequence set in hell), not to mention really big puppets (by Michael Curry). There’s even a phalanx of cloned, dancing Beetlejuices. (The hyper choreography is by Connor Gallagher.)
This being a Broadway musical, “Beetlejuice” has been given a freshly broadened sentimental streak. There’s an enhanced treacly through line, at odds with the prevailing frat-house high jinks, about the search for family. But at its center is the lonely, mom-missing Lydia, who resents that her dad, Charles (Jesse Sharp) has taken up with Delia (Kate Marilley, taking zany to the max), a perky but insecure life coach.
In parts charmingly originated onscreen by Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis, the house-haunting, newly dead young couple Adam and Barbara (the talented Mr. Burton and Ms. Coleman) are shown mourning the absence of the child they never got around to having while they were alive. And Isabella Esler’s precocious, incandescent presence onstage has the same devilish, deadpan piquancy that Winona Ryder brought to the same role in the film.
Most fun was the number, “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song),” in which the stuffy, dressed-up denizens of a dinner party find themselves possessed by a calypso spirit, bewitched as a crazy bunch of Jamaican backup dancers.
The show is a real hoot. It made you wonder if Justin Collette, who was so electrically, relentlessly “on,” could actually sustain that level of all-out energy throughout two full acts. As it turns out, Mr. Collette can indeed sustain this anything-for-a-laugh intensity, always topping what came before. Sounding like a raspy vaudevillian on crack, Mr. Collette was frenzied, shameless, audience-aware and very funny as the living/dead embodiment of the uncensored id, while celebrating from the get-go what the show is about: Death. Death. And more death.
WARNER BROS.; THEATRE VENTURES; NETWORKS PRESENTATIONS; LANGLEY PARK PRODUCTIONS; JEFFREY RICHARDS; STEVE TRAXLER; REBECCA GOLD; JAMES L. NEDERLANDER; WARNER/CHAPPELL MUSIC INC.; in association with deROY FEDERMAN PRODUCTIONS/42ND.CLUB; MARY LU ROFFE; MARC BELL & JEFF HOLLANDER; THE JOHN GORE ORGANIZATION; RUTH & STEVE HENDEL; GABRIELLE PALITZ; PIERCE FRIEDMAN PRODUCTIONS; PRESENTS BEETLEJUICE, THE MUSICAL. THE MUSICAL. THE MUSICAL. Book By SCOTT BROWN & ANTHONY KING; Music & Lyrics By EDDIE PERFECT; Based on the GEFFEN COMPANY PICTURE, with a story by MICHAEL MCDOWELL & LARRY WILSON.
Directed by ALEX TIMBERS; Choreographed by CONNOR GALLAGHER; Music Director/Conductor ANDY GROBENGIESER; Musical Supervision, Orchestration & Incidental Music KRIS KUKUL; Additional Arrangements by EDDIE PERFECT & KRIS KUKUL; Scenic Design by DAVID KORINS; Puppet Design by MICHAEL CURRY; Costume Design by WILLIAM IVEY LONG; Lighting Design by KENNETH POSNER; Sound Design by PETER HYLENSKI; Projection Design by PETER NIGRINI; Special Effects Design by JEREMY CHERNICK; Magic & Illusion Design by MICHAEL WEBER; Hair & Wig Design by CHARLES G. LAPOINTE; Makeup Design by JOE DULLUDE II; Production Stage Manager ALAN D. KNIGHT.
STARRING: JUSTIN COLLETTE; ISABELLA ESLER; BRITNEY COLEMAN; WILL BURTON; JESSE SHARP; KATE MARILLEY.
WITH: ABE GOLDFARB; LEE N. PRICE; KRIS ROBERTS; BRIAN VAUGHN; JACKERA DAVIS; DANIELLE MARIE GONZALEZ.
ENSEMBLE: MICHAEL BIREN, JACKERA DAVIS, JULIANE GODFREY, ABE GOLDFARB, DANIELLE MARIE GONZALEZ, KENWAY HON WAI K. KUA, SEAN MCMANUS, LEE N PRICE, NEVADA RILEY, KRIS ROBERTS, TREVOR MICHAEL SCHMIDT, BRIAN VAUGHN, CORBEN WILLIAMS.
UNDERSTUDIES: For Beetlejuice–MICHAEL BIREN, MATTHEW MICHAEL JANISSE, LEE N PRICE; for Lydia– JACKERA DAVIS, NEVADA RILEY; for Barbara–JULIANE GODFREY, LEXIE DORSETT SHARP; for Adam–RYAN BRESLIN, ABE GOLDFARB, MATTHEW MICHAEL JANISSE; for Delia–JULIANE GODFREY, KRIS ROBERTS, LEXIE DORSETT SHARP; for Charles–ABE GOLDFARB, MATTHEW MICHAEL JANISSE, BRIAN VAUGHN; for Otho–MICHAEL BIREN, RYAN BRESLIN, MATTHEW MICHAEL JANISSE, LEE N PRICE; for Maxie Dean–MICHAEL BIREN, RYAN BRESLIN, ABE GOLDFARB, MATTHEW MICHAEL JANISSE; for Maxine Dean–JULIANE GODFREY, MORGAN HARRISON, LEXIE DORSETT SHARP; for Juno–JULIANE GODFREY, MORGAN HARRISON, LEXIE DORSETT SHARP; for Girl Scout–MORGAN HARRISON, NEVADA RILEY; for Miss Argentina–JULIANE GODFREY, LEXIE DORSETT SHARP, NEVADA RILEY.
SWINGS: RYAN BRESLIN, MORGAN HARRISON, MATTHEW MICHAEL JANISSE, LEXIE DORSETT SHARP
VACATION SWINGS: ERIC ANTHONY JOHNSON, KATIE LOMBARDO
BEETLEJUICE is being presented at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, LA, CA from July 11-30. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM; Saturdays and Wednesday, July 19th at 2PM; Sundays at 1PM and 6:30PM. There is a 15-min intermission. Ticket prices start at $39. For Ticket Reservations, see https://www.broadwayinhollywood.com/venues/detail/pantagestheatre
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
Photo Credits: Matthew Murphy