If you’re looking for hours of escapist fun and spellbinding special effects, “Beetlejuice” is the show to see. It is a whirlwind of constant action, laughs, and superb vocal performances. Closer to a rock concert than a traditional musical, the audience follows a demon called Beetlejuice as he hatches a scheme to use a naïve pair of married suburbanites to advance his quest to rise from the dead. The musical, written by Anthony King and Scott Brown with lyrics by Eddie Perfect, actually previewed at The National before opening on Broadway in 2019 and was an immediate smash hit. It was critically lauded for its adherence to its source material (it was based on a 1988 Tim Burton movie of the same name) as well as some well thought out changes to the storyline. The touring cast does an excellent job keeping the energy fast paced and frantic, with each actor putting their own unique spin on the beloved macabre classic.
…escapist fun and spellbinding special effects…a whirlwind of constant action, laughs, and superb vocal performances.
One main difference between the movie and the musical is the decision to open the show with narration from Beetlejuice himself. Justin Collette is a fabulous Beetlejuice and we believe the character can vacillate between charmingly crude and grossly manipulative at breakneck speed. The ghost with the most makes it clear that this is not a happy show—it’s a show about death. In the number “The Whole ‘Being Dead’ Thing,” he aims some well-placed barbs at the audience for spending too much on intermission drinks and merchandise. This is one of the many ways the show breaks the fourth wall, usually in song form, and it is always hilariously effective. That being said, get the signature cocktail, “The Beetlejuice.” It’s a poisonous green and captures the spirit of the show quite deliciously.
The musical also changes another key aspect of a major character, namely Delia’s place in the Deetz family unit. In the film, Delia is Delia Deetz, Lydia’s mother and wife of Charles. Here, Delia is a life-coach employed by Charles to break Lydia out of the funk she has been in since the death of her mother. This change makes sense and gives Lydia more definitive motivation to seek out otherworldly help. As the larger than life Delia, Kate Marilley bring excellent physicality and good comedic timing to the part. Her employer/lover Charles, played to hammy perfection by Jesse Sharp, gives the character an aristocratic vocal trill which makes Lydia and Beetlejuice’s personalities seem almost down to earth. In the same hammy ballpark is Delia’s mentor, guru Otho played by the hilarious Abe Goldfarb. He was previously in the Broadway cast and is a prime example of encapsulating the energy of the show to a tee.
The score is not easy and needs a team of excellent vocalists to carry it off. Isabella Esler stuns as Lydia Deetz, performing two of the most difficult numbers, “Dead Mom” and “Home.” In both songs, Lydia asks her recently-deceased mother to help her find a way through her grief. Esler has a lovely voice and “Home,” in particular, was strikingly moving. Lydia and her chosen family, ghostly couple Barbara and Adam, are the real heart of Act One. They help Lydia understand what a healthy family unit looks like, and ultimately aid her in deciding not to trust that Beetlejuice has her best interests at heart. Britney Coleman as Barbara is so effervescent and you can’t help but root for her relationship with Adam to succeed and flourish. Will Burton’s Adam brings a wholesomeness to the show, delightfully juxtaposed with Beetlejuice’s vulgarity.
The real star of the show is the technical/creative team which has perfected every avenue of theatre sorcery, both practical and visual. Beetlejuice is constantly performing magic tricks, whether it is pulling a bouquet of roses out of his jacket or magically possessing an extra arm or leg. At one point, some onstage ventriloquism is performed as Beetlejuice throws his voice seemingly without moving his mouth. The whole team should be congratulated but particularly scenic designer David Korins and special effects designer Jeremy Chernick. When Lydia Deetz jumps into the great beyond, the audience seems to fall into a dark void reminiscent of Alice and Wonderland. Larger rings of light give way to smaller and smaller rings, creating the illusion of falling. The effects were truly wonderful to behold and capture the very reason why theatre is such a magical thing. Go see “Beetlejuice” if you want to witness an all-star cast and experience a heartwarming story—overall it’s a grand, old time.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission.
Advisory: Recommended for 13+. Parental discretion advised.
“Beetlejuice” runs through May 28, 2023 at the The National Theater, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington D.C, 20004. For tickets and more information, call the Box Office at 202-628-6161 or go online.