This new screen-to-stage musical adaptation of Tim Burton’s ghoulish 1988 film feels like two different musicals have been fused together. On one hand it’s trying to be a sincere exploration of loss and grief; on the other it’s a wacky netherworld comedy about a mouthy demon and his bag of tricks.
Alex Timbers’ production looks suitably Burton-esque while also attempting to give more of a backstory to the characters. Despite lots of solid laughs, some clever fourth-wall-breaking, and some strong performances, the middling rock-pop score and the unwieldy, sorrowful storyline sap some of the vitality from the original.
As in the film, the demon-spawn poltergeist Beetlejuice (Alex Brightman) is a gravelly voiced troublemaker in a filthy black-and-white-striped suit. He encourages Barbara (Kerry Butler) and Adam (Rob McClure), a recently deceased, uber-square couple, to spook the Deetz family, who have moved into Barbara and Adam’s former home, in an effort to get a living person to say his name and make him visible.
Sophia Anne Caruso’s teenage Lydia Deetz, still inconsolable over the death of her mother, is like a goth Mrs Maisel in Dr Martens. Her father (Adam Dannheisser) has secretly taken up with Delia (Leslie Kritzer), the ineffectual life coach he hired to help Lydia move on. Both Beetlejuice and Lydia feel invisible — they’re both essentially misunderstood teens (one of them just happens to be centuries old).
Brightman bounces around the stage like a randy Tigger, his performance staying just the right side of annoyingly charming. He narrates from time to time, giving him the chance to be gleefully conspiratorial with the audience.
Caruso, meanwhile, gets saddled with all the mournful material about death, which she vocally expresses through a succession of pained and doleful ballads. Her voice is strong, and though she’s not always sure what to do with her body on stage, the confrontation with her father is genuinely moving.
Kritzer is a daffy physical comedian in Carol Burnett mode. Her wide-eyed expressions, mispronunciations and faux confidence are refreshing. Butler and McClure, however, are stuck with dead-end songs. Overall, Eddie Perfect’s musical numbers pull the story’s focus. The Banana Boat Song will stick with you more than Lydia’s plaintive ode to her “Dead Mom”.
The Day-O possession dinner-party scene and certain fan-favourite characters are lovingly recreated. David Korins’ scenic design and William Ivey Long’s costumes evoke Burton’s oeuvre via line-drawing projections, outré hair styles and grotesquely exaggerated decor, though the underworld visuals are disappointingly simple.
Burton’s film was a macabre joy, but this “show about death” doesn’t quite hit the mark. It never quite finds the right mixture of funny and creepy, lurid and light.