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The 'Beetlejuice' National Tour Is the Fright of Your Life
It's worth a trip to Hell and back.
“Such a bold departure from the original source material!” exclaims Beetlejuice some two minutes into his titular musical, now playing at D.C.'s National Theatre, a two-week stop as a part of its National Tour. He's letting us know that the show we're about to see will give us the Beetlejuice you know and love, while having its own fun with it, (“Holy crap! A ballad already?”)
That 1988 movie is a cult classic, an early entry from Tim Burton that immediately showed his unique visual style and bonkers storytelling. It's a fan favorite and that fandom has transitioned to the musical, keeping the show alive on Broadway post-pandemic and now showing up dressed in costume and covered in merch at the tour stops, (I spoke to one Lydia-dressed fan who had to count up how many times she'd seen the show...she tallied six).
Ever so slightly altering the plot of the film, the musical still follows a recently deceased couple, Adam and Barbara Maitland (Will Burton and Britney Coleman), who find themselves trapped in their old house as ghosts. Desperate to rid themselves of the new family that has moved into their beloved home, the Maitlands turn to the mischievous and crude demon Beetlejuice for help. The musical is hosted by Beetlejuice, who often breaks the fourth wall and narrates the proceedings, Brecht style. He even goes as far as to warn us that this will be "a show about death," something he finds lovely.
The new arrivals in the Maitland home have experienced a death of their own, recently losing Lydia's (Isabella Esler) mother. She's mourning to the nth degree, refusing to wear anything but black, and has grown obsessed with the idea of death. She's the only human that can see the ghoulish Maitlands, befriending them (she doesn't want to live in this house either...in fact, she doesn't want to live at all) and eventually becoming their ally in stopping Beetlejuice's destructive plans. Together, they strive to outsmart and contain the dangerous ghost, all while unraveling the secrets and dynamics of the afterlife.
Broadway has a Hollywood problem, often relying too much on clunky screen-to-stage adaptations and hoping to cash in on name recognition. Beetlejuice, however, does not have that problem. The original world from Tim Burton is distinct, both eerie and enchanting, with a perfect balance of dark undertones and whimsy. Director Alex Timbers finds a new spirit (pun intended) in this adaptation, bringing it to a modern theatre-going audience (joke targets include Trader Joe's and the Electoral College), perfectly capturing the darkly comedic spirit of the film while injecting it with fresh and contemporary energy. The show keeps the irreverent humor, wacky characters, and spooky atmosphere of the original while adding new elements and themes to the story - paying homage while still making something their own.
There are fun Burton-esque costumes from Theatre Hall of Famer (I often make jokes about people being Hall of Famers, but this is not one, he literally is) William Ivey Long and an ever-transitioning set from David Korins, whose tour-redesigned set loses no flavor and despite sparing some expense (in the typical national tour way), seems to spare no expense. Music and lyrics by Eddie Perfect range from catchy and energetic numbers like "The Whole Being Dead Thing" and "Say My Name" to poignant and emotional ballads such as "Home" and "Dead Mom," as he seamlessly blends humor and heart. The book by Scott Brown and Anthony King does the same.
Even with all of the great work from the creative team, when the crowd jumps to their feet during the curtain call, it's for a fun-loving cast.
Justin Collette delivers a show-stopping performance as Beetlejuice, a vaudevillian with boundless energy, impeccable comedic timing, and charismatic stage presence. He fully embodies the manic and mischievous spirit of the character and is clearly given room to vamp and improvise, commanding the stage with every dry quip. Finding his own character parallel to the iconic Michael Keaton and the fan-favorite Broadway opener Alex Brightman, he's doing everything but relying on those performances to do the heavy lifting.
His interactions with the other characters, particularly Lydia, are some of the show's funniest and most memorable moments. Isabella Esler's portrayal of Lydia is equally impressive, especially considering she's making her professional debut and is barely removed from high school. Britney Coleman, Will Burton, and Kate Marilley (as Delia, the life coach Lydia's father hires to bring her...back to life) all shine as comedians while finding their emotional depths, coming across as charming and endearing.
Despite a two-and-a-half hour runtime (my only nit-pick), Beetlejuice is a fun and entertaining show that captures the spirit of the original film while bringing Broadway quality to your city. It's all fan-tested and approved (although probably not age appropriate for the number of littles I spotted in the crowd) and is more than worth a trip to Hell and back.
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