My Variety Review: "Beetlejuice" Musical On Broadway
“Such a bold departure from the original source material!” wisecracks the odd-looking fellow sitting on a coffin at the start of the Broadway musical “Beetlejuice.” The weird, nasty and outrageous title character is talking about a short lament just sung by a sad teen at her mother’s gravesite, as he breaks the fourth wall (“Holy crap! A ballad already?”) — and the show breaks from the iconic 1988 Tim Burton film comedy on which it is based.
The retooling done since its out-of-town tryout in D.C. — along with a host of others plot twists and character tweaks — gives the latest film-to-musical adaptation fresh snap, surprises and (gasp!) even heart. Sure, the narrative becomes a bit of a cluster-muck in the second act — but mostly it’s just screamingly good fun.
Unlike the film, in which the title character doesn’t appear until much later in the story and has relatively little screen time, here he’s front and center. But he’s no imperious god from “Hadestown” or philosophizing corpse-handler from “Gary.” In the role that Michael Keaton originated in the film, Alex Brightman (“School of Rock”) plays him like a raspy vaudevillian on crack: frenzied, shameless, audience-aware and very funny as the living/dead embodiment of the uncensored id, while celebrating from the get-go what the show is about: Death. And more death. Laughing yet?
It might depend on your taste for black humor, Marxian (as in Groucho) anarchy and crude jokes — but some witty ones, too. It’s also a call to embrace life while we have it. As one of Eddie Perfect’s over-the-top lyrics goes: “We shoulda carpe’d way more diems/Now we’re never gonna see ’em.”)