A Show About Death: Musings on Beetlejuice – October 31, 2019

Halloween is a holiday that celebrates the macabre, with children (and adults) of all ages out and about in costumes in search of candy and to cause all sorts of mischief. Beetlejuice is the ideal musical (based on the film of the same name) that encapsulates the core aspects surrounding that holiday, and is also the most logical musical to see on Halloween night. Over the years an inadvertent tradition arose of going to see a Broadway show (usually a musical) on Halloween night – it’s always fun to see theatergoers in costumes in the audience and the atmosphere is oftentimes more animated than usual. This is my second time seeing Beetlejuice currently playing at the Winter Garden Theatre (I had seen it early in its preview period) but writing about its Halloween performance seemed appropriate. The fun started before show, as Alex Brightman came out to hand theatergoers candy, and chatted with those who arrived early (the lesson here is to arrive at the theatre a bit earlier than show time – you never know who you might see…)

The musical is largely based on the film, which revolves around the titular character causing overall mischief for the recently deceased Adam and Barbara Maitland and the Deetz family, who move into the Maitland home. The musical mostly follows the film’s plot with some additional exposition for Lydia, still mourning her dead mother. The stage adaptation takes advantage of poking at the fourth wall, setting up the context that it’s “a show about death” and has a balance of approaching the subject of death and the aftermath (both for the living and the recently deceased) with humor and pathos.

The overall scenic design is astounding to the point that the entire theatre is immersed in misty, spooky lights adding to the ambiance of the show, with the set design showing the Maitland house as almost an oversized model (perhaps a nod to an aspect of the film wherein Adam has a scale model of the town in which he lives). The score is fantastic, a collection of songs that have an 80s vibe, with subtle nods to the film score (by Danny Elfman) and also includes the iconic songs “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jump in the Line” which also featured in the film. The cast is astounding, especially Alex Brightman as the titular “ghost with the most” (who in my opinion should have won the Tony) playing the role with such elastic glee that you’d almost think he was an animated character; another standout was understudy Presley Ryan as Lydia Deetz, who expertly balanced the emotions of an angst-ridden teenager and a lost child who just wants to be seen and to be able to openly mourn the loss of her mother.

 

As it was Halloween night, the stage door was a (lovely) swarm of costumed theatergoers so I skipped that circus and just enjoyed the rest of the evening, seeing theatergoers and passersby in costume. Also, there was a special edition of the playbill just for the month of October. All in all, Beetlejuice is a fun musical with a great cast, memorable music and stays true to the essence of that iconic film.