×

Pre-Broadway Review: ‘Beetlejuice’

Tim Burton's gothic-fantasy film haunts the stage as an overstuffed, crude new musical.

With:
Alex Brightman, Sophia Anne Caruso, Kerry Butler, Rob McClure, Adam Dannheisser, Leslie Kritzer, Jill Abramovitz, Danny Rutigliano, Kelvin Moon Loh.

The 1988 film “Beetlejuice” spawned a cult following for the freshly minted “gothic fantasy” style of its director, Tim Burton, and for Michael Keaton’s delicious performance as a comically macabre maître d’ of the netherworld. Thirty years later, Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures and its partners have turned the concept into a decidedly raunchy musical that is laser-targeted to today’s early-teen market. But in its tryout run at D.C.’s National Theater before a scheduled March booking on Broadway, it’s a frenetically paced and woefully overcooked endeavor that’s excessive in virtually every respect.

The story remains a haunted-house fantasy about the efforts of a newly deceased couple (Rob McClure and Kerry Butler) to drive away the annoying new owners (Leslie Kritzer and Adam Dannheisser) of their cozy fixer-upper. Burton’s name doesn’t qualify for the credits, but his influence is obvious in the humorously macabre elements inserted by director Alex Timbers (“Peter and the Starcatcher”) as he otherwise marches in new directions. His decidedly heavier stamp is revealed at the outset, in an elaborate opening number that introduces the players amid a barrage of eye-popping effects. Center stage is the title character played by Alex Brightman (“School of Rock”) as a raspy-voiced and fiendish “emcee,” rather than Keaton’s more mischievous ne’er-do-well.

The first number in a score penned by Australian singer-songwriter-actor Eddie Perfect (“King Kong,” “Moulin Rouge!”), “The Whole Being Dead Thing” is a lengthy tune that incorporates a range of musical styles including death metal, folk, swing and Jamaican ska. It’s performed at the breathless pace that dominates the show, serving as a preview of  the musical’s deadpan humor and its broad array of visual effects, projections and puppetry.

The production’s $21 million budget and eight years of development have clearly yielded a mountain of embellishments for the razor-thin plot and a host of ways to zero in on the target audience. Indeed, excess is the principal problem, from that rapid-fire barrage of special effects to the book’s tiresome dependence on crotch jokes to the abundant slapstick.

There’s only one character who conjures any empathy: the rebellious daughter Lydia, made even more prominent than she was in the film and played here by the talented Sophia Anne Caruso (stepping into a part first played onscreen by Winona Ryder). With an engaging voice and spirited presence, Caruso lights up her scenes and nails her musical assignments.

Brighton, by contrast, wears out his welcome almost instantly his with incessant crudeness, tiresome antics and annoying voice. This stage version of the character could be reined in for everyone’s benefit.

Songwriter Perfect’s score is another trouble spot. There are few melodies of distinction, and at times it musicalizes scenes that arguably could be more effectively conveyed in dialogue. A prime example: the Act Two song in which Lydia and her father (Dannheisser) reconcile over the mother’s death, the evening’s most profound moment.

At least there are those two Harry Belafonte numbers inspired by scenes in the film. “Day-O,” showing up in a late scene at a dinner party, proves delightful. It’s the kind of joy that the WBTV will need to work hard to bring to the rest of the proceedings, before the show lands on Broadway in March.

Popular on Variety

Pre-Broadway Review: 'Beetlejuice'

National Theater, Washington, D.C. 1,169 seats; $114 top. Opened, reviewed, Nov. 4, 2018.  Running time:  TWO HOURS, 30 MINS.

Production: A Warner Bros. Theater Ventures, Langley Park Prods., Steve Traxler, Broadway Asia, IMG Original Content, Ben Lowy, James L. Nederlander, Warner/Chappell Music Inc., in association with Mark Bell and Jeff Hollander, Pierce Friedman Prods., John Gore Organization, Ruth & Steve Hendel, LHC Theatrical Fund, Networks Presentations of a musical in two acts with music and lyrics by Eddie Perfect and book by Scott Brown and Anthony King, based on the Geffen Company film, with story by Michael McDowell & Larry Wilson.

Creative: Directed by Alex Timbers. Choreographed by Connor Gallagher. Sets, David Korins; costumes, William Ivey Long; lighting, Kenneth Posner; sound, Peter Hylenski; projection design, Peter Nigrini; puppet design, Michael Curry; special effects, Jeremy Chernick; illusions, Michael Weber, music supervision, orchestration, and incidental music, Kris Kukul. Line producer, Jenny Gersten.

Cast: Alex Brightman, Sophia Anne Caruso, Kerry Butler, Rob McClure, Adam Dannheisser, Leslie Kritzer, Jill Abramovitz, Danny Rutigliano, Kelvin Moon Loh.

More Legit

  • The Sound Inside review

    Broadway Review: 'The Sound Inside' Starring Mary-Louise Parker

    Mary-Louise Parker will take your breath away with her deeply felt and sensitively drawn portrait of a tenured Yale professor who treasures great literature, but has made no room in her life for someone to share that love with. The other thesp in this two-hander is Will Hochman, endearing in the supportive role of a [...]

  • Little Shop of Horrors review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Little Shop of Horrors'

    With its strains of kitschy doo-wop and its sci-fi B-movie inspirations, the quaint 1982 musical “Little Shop of Horrors” hardly seems a thing of modern-day revivalism, even despite its touches of S&M. Yet this year alone, not only is there an Off Broadway production of the blackly comic “Little Shop” featuring Jonathan Groff of Netflix’s [...]

  • The Lightning Thief review musical

    Broadway Review: 'The Lightning Thief,' The Musical

    “It’s a lot to take in right now,” says Percy Jackson, the teen hero of “The Lightning Thief,” the kid-centric fantasy musical (based on the popular Y.A. novel) that’s now on Broadway after touring the country and playing an Off Broadway run. You could say that’s a bit of an understatement from contemporary teen Percy [...]

  • The Rose Tattoo review

    Broadway Review: 'The Rose Tattoo' Starring Marisa Tomei

    “The Rose Tattoo” is what happens when a poet writes a comedy — something strange, but kind of lovely. The same might be said of director Trip Cullman’s production: Strange, if not exactly lovely. Even Marisa Tomei, so physically delicate and expressively refined, seems an odd choice to play the lusty and passionate protagonist, Serafina [...]

  • Obit-Roy-B

    Former NATO President Roy B. White Dies at 93

    Roy B. White, former president and chairman of the National Association of Theater Owners, died of natural causes Oct. 11 in Naples, Fla. He was 93. White ran the 100-screen independent theater circuit, Mid–States Theaters Inc. In addition to his career, he did extensive work on behalf of charities and non-profits. He was vice president [...]

  • Soft Power review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Soft Power'

    The “culture-clash musical” is a familiar template, in which a white American protagonist — waving the flag of individuality, optimism and freedom — trumps and tramps over the complexities of that which is foreign, challenging or “other.” David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori’s “Soft Power,” the new “play with a musical” at Off Broadway’s Public [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content