Encore Michigan

Beetlejuice is a lively, fun spectacle

Review February 04, 2023 David Kiley

DETROIT, MI–When it comes to Tim Burton’s 1988 film, Beetlejuice, the world is pretty much made up of two camps: those who adore the movie to the point of cult status, and those who are indifferent to the goth fandango.

As is the case with so many Broadway shows these days, the producers of Beetlejuice, the musical, are aiming at two objectives: create a spectacle out of an existing property and franchise and draw in the cultists around the movie, and attract young theater goers.

Despite the film being 34 years in the rearview mirror, the theme and lunchbox merch crowd between 14 or so and 40 were out in full force this week at The Detroit Opera House. It was quite a mixed crowd, from teenagers with Beetlejuice tee-shirts to some rather sketchy looking forty-somethings wearing pinstriped pajama pants and hair or wigs with half a can of hairspray to keep it going in five or six different directions just like the original Beetlejuice played by Michael Keaton.

Directed by Alex Timbers with music and lyrics by Eddie Perfect and book by Scott Brown and Anthony King, the musical version goes in directions Burton and Keaton likely would not have imagined when they were doing a table read with Ronald Reagan in the White House.

Justin Collette as Beetlejuice is fast-talking, amped and pretty caffeinated. He comes off a bit like how I imagine the over-amped Guy Fieri (The Food Network) would be as a whimsical dead guy trapped in his own failed restaurant after a bunch of diners died of food poisoning. But the writers have given him some modern pop culture jabs quips and barbs far from the original: jokes about gay Republicans, book burnings like the ones right-wingers have staged in the American South, death, sexually transmitted diseases and the odd f-bomb dropped like chum in the water.

When the curtain opens, we are confronted by the house that Beetlejuice and the about-to-be-dead inhabitants. Scenic designer David Korins has created a Seuss-like house with exaggerated angles and colors. The wallop of the set, Beetlejuice breaking the fourth wall and seeing the new inhabitants of the house croaked in the first five minutes is all just the job to get the pajama wearers hooting and hollering. It works.

When Beetlejuice, in one of his asides to the audience, references the play itself: “Such a bold departure from the original source material,” it’s a clue that we are all in on the joke. This is not so much a play as it is a guilty pleasure. It’s showtime!

One of those deviations is the expansion of the role of Lydia (Isabelle Esler), daughter of Charles (Jesse Sharp.) Her Mother has recently died, and Charles has taken up with annoying Lifecoach Delia (Kate Marilley). She reminds us a bit of Wednesday from The Addams Family. Charles is going to try and turn the house into an investment after the electrocution death of the last owners, Adam (Will Burton) and Barbara (Britney Coleman) of the house.

Beetlejuice, though, shepherds the newly dead residents to get the new, live residents to say his name, Beetlejuice, three times. The joy in the show is the spectacle of it all.  Beetlejuice devotees eat it all up like wormy spaghetti and blood punch.

Beetlejuice is presented by Broadway in Detroit at The Detroit Opera House, and plays through Feb. 12

Week of 7/15/2024

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