A few weeks ago I saw the musical version of Beetlejuice. Based on the classic Tim Burton film, Beetlejuice is currently running at the Winter Garden, a space best remembered for hosting Cats.
The musical follows the film relatively closely. It tells the story of the recently-dead likeable couple that hires the demon Beetlejuice in an attempt to expel an annoying living family from the old house they still are placed in.
Alex Brightman is close to Michael Keaton, the original Beetlejuice, in manic energy. Beetlejuice, as we know, is a classic trickster. He produces chaos everywhere he turns. He is perhaps a descendant of the similarly troublemaking characters depicted by the Marx Brothers.
The entire cast is strong. Special praise should be given to Kerry Butler, who plays the recently departed young wife in the house, and Leslie Kritzer, portraying the wannabe psychic Delia. Sophia Caruso also holds her own, as the Gothic, death-obsessed teenager who is compelled by her father to move into the New England house.
The entire show, with a script by Scott Brown and Anthony King, has many hilarious moments. The score, by Eddie Perfect, matches the script in wit.
But the musical doesn’t quite have the film’s punch. The new living residents of the house come across as eccentric rather than arrogant. Unlike Catherine O’Hara’s Delia, they don’t need to be cut down to size. The dance scene, in which the intruders and their dinner guests become possessed, and compelled to do a tropical dance, just seems part of the piece’s general silliness.
Departing from the film, the musical seeks to explain the Gothic teen’s obsession with death: she is wishing to reunite with her departed mother. But the rational explanation makes this teen seem less real than her film prototype, portrayed by Winona Ryder. And the ghost couple, while joining in the general eccentricity, lack the caring qualities that would have drawn the Gothic teen to them as surrogate parents.
Something essential is missing from this show. It’s a given that musicals must entertain. Yet as part of the dramatic art, they should pursue deeper truths. It’s not enough for people to laugh at a show, and then all but forget it when they pass the exit. Human life, even at a surreal or satirical level, must be presented in its essential reality.
Despite its successful packaging, BEETLEJUICE does not stir our souls as Hamilton or Rent do.