Beetlejuice on Tour (Kimmel Center): Adaptation, Adaptation, Adaptation!
Musicals based on movies are not exactly a new phenomenon, but GOOD musicals based on movies are. The argument could be made that the majority of film to stage adaptations sacrifice some plot points or humor, for the sake of a musical moment or motif. A lot of these shows struggle to take what worked on film, and make it work on stage. However, there are usually some good songs interspersed within these shows, with the scores usually overpowering the book of the musical. Such is not the case with Beetlejuice the musical, a musical that succeeds in adapting the feeling of the beloved 1988 movie to the stage, but could honestly do with less songs.
Different, but Familiar
Beetlejuice the musical is not a direct adaptation of the film that bears the same name. While the characters' names and designs are similar, the story decides to shift focus from the Maitlands, the ghostly married couple at the center of the '88 movie, and instead focus on the titular character and Lydia Deetz to propel the plot of the musical forward. This shift works rather well and allows the musical to focus on the zany Betelgeuse (yes, it's spelled differently) and his desire to be seen and freed. This character development parallels Lydia's arc to be seen and heard after the loss of her mother. This change makes the show a bit more whimsical, and allows for more of the abstract ghoulishness to feel more naturally placed.
The side characters are all there as well: Lydia's dad and new step mom (though currently unmarried, serving as a life coach to Lydia at this point in the musical), Miss Argentina, Otho (here changed from an interior designer to a spiritual guru) and yes, even the giant sand snake makes several appearances. The book is rather witty and comical, making great use of modern tropes and humor. The character Betelgeuse gets many chances to vamp and interact with the audience, making multiple off-the-cuff comments about current events that are downright hilarious.
The only downside to the script is the song placement. There are too many songs that all sound a bit too familiar. Particularly in the first act, where there are several extraneous reprises of songs that don't really add or move the plot forward. The second act has better song placement, but sadly contains less memorable songs.
A New Queer Icon
What surprised me most about this current touring production was just how unabashedly queer it was. Betelgeuse spends most of the show hitting on both Maitlands, going so far as to make out with Adam several times. The re-imagined take on Delia as a self-help coach, who is also a cross between Gwyneth Paltrow and Moira Rose (in what seems an intentional nod to Catherine O'Hara who played Delia in the film), is inspired, often pulling the largest laughs out of the audience, and certainly appealing to gay audiences, with her love of crystals.
The cast is strong in their takes on these characters. Justin Collette is a true shining star as Betelgeuse, immediately commanding the stage from the moment they step out from behind a coffin in the opening. How Justin sings with the gravel in their voice 8 times a week is truly impressive, and the variety of topical ad-libs and off-handed comments in character add to the humor of the show immensely. Will Burton and Britney Coleman as Adam and Barbara are terrific, being the perfect pair of "straight" roles for the zanier characters to play off of. Isabella Esler does her best as Lydia, but Lydia is an extremely vocally demanding role (her songs are intense vocal gymnastic routines) and while Esler has a good voice, she doesn't have the rock grit that really adds to Lydia's songs, and seemed to struggle on some of the top notes the evening I saw her.
Go Get Spoopy
Even with its lack of super memorable music, Beetlejuice is still a very fun evening at the theatre. The costumes, set and projection work are all top-notch, all giving nods to the source material, while maintaining an air of originality. The script is extremely funny and the cast is giving it their all. It's a fun performance of some early summer spoopiness that will leave you longing for Halloween and October weather.
Beetlejuice the Musical is onstage at the Academy of Music now thru June 11th, 2023.