By Oline H. Cogdill
Beetlejuice. Beetlejuice. Beetleju….
Never mind. Just stop. No need to try to conjure up the spirit of this demon as long as the musical Beetlejuice is running through June 25 at the Broward Center.
The musical Beetlejuice, part of the Broadway Across America series, is resplendent with silly, often stupid, jokes, over-the-top acting and sometimes forgettable songs that actually all come together to make it work.
It helps if you are a fan, as was my two young companions, of the 1988 movie directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Catherine O’Hara and Winona Ryder. That Beetlejuice, basically a story about death, became such a success is kind of amazing. The film won an Academy Award—OK, for best makeup, but still an Oscar.
The musical version’s success is equally amazing, having opened in 2019 at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre, and winning the Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics Circle Award for scenic design and was nominated for eight Tony Awards including best new musical.
After the release of its original Broadway cast recording and Tony Awards appearance, Beetlejuice became the surprise hit of the 2018/2019 season. A TikTok posting is credited with making it one of the top grossing shows on Broadway, breaking the Winter Garden box office record. Beetlejuice was forced to close on March 12, 2020, along with the rest of Broadway productions. But Beetlejuice rose from the dead on April 8, 2022, at the Marquis Theatre where it ran through January 8, 2023.
Now the musical Beetlejuice is haunting across the United States.
The musical version of Beetlejuice varies a bit from the movie—as my godson said, “it has more music”—but keeps the spirit of the film.
Beetlejuice opens with teenage Lydia Deetz at the funeral of her much-loved mother, singing the poignant “Prologue: Invisible” in which she laments that only her mom realized her value and that she is mainly invisible to her father, Charles. As the mourners gather around the coffin in the graveyard, up pops the hundred-plus, green-haired demon Beetlejuice, mocking the living with the funny, profane with “The Whole ‘Being Dead’ Thing.” He also is invisible to others unless a living person will say his name three times without pausing. And he has a plan.
Beetlejuice arranges for the normal, married couple Adam and Barbara Maitland to die in their Connecticut home. The couple is a bundle of anxieties and insecurities, unable to commit to their various hobbies, let alone having a child, though they almost have a crib ready. After they die, Beetlejuice tells the Maitlands that they must scare away the new owners of their home in order to be left alone.
Enter Charles Deetz who has bought the house, forcing his daughter Lydia to leave the home she grew up in, further putting her emotions on the line. Charles has brought Delia, a life coach and his secret lover. But the Maitlands, who Beetlejuice considers boring, calling them Brigadoon, are too dull to frighten anything. But amazingly enough, goth girl Lydia can see Beetlejuice and the Maitlands. So Beetlejuice has a new plan.
Any Beetlejuice production hinges on over the acting, especially with Beetlejuice, Lydia and Delia. And the production at the Broward Center is gifted with Justin Collette as Beetlejuice; Isabella Esler as Lydia and Kate Marilley as Delia.
Collette embodies the crude, coarse, cursing, creepy—oh, so creepy—Beetlejuice. Collette is all over the stage, popping up here and there, interacting with the audience, making fun of everything and everyone. Esler is a revelation—with a strong voice and stage presence—making her professional debut having just graduated from high school. A long career is ahead of her. Marilley delivers an appropriately funny, ditzy life coach who has no idea what she is doing.
A special nod to Jackera Davis who makes the most of her small turn as a Girl Scout who has picked the wrong house to sell cookies.
When Beetlejuice, Lydia and Delia are on stage, the production soars. But when they aren’t, the musical barely reaches beyond the grave. Beetlejuice caps a stellar Broadway Across America season the brought us To Kill a Mockingbird, Mean Girls and Tina.
Beetlejuice. Beetlejuice. Beetleju….STOP!
Beetlejuice will run through June 25 in the Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale, as part of the Broadway Across America series. Times are 8 p.m. through Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Running time 2 hours, 20 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets start at $35.75. For tickets visit www.browardcenter.org, ticketmaster.com; by phone 954-462-0222.