REVIEW: “Beetlejuice the Musical” Worms its Way into Your Heart

By Liz Eichler

Beetlejuice, the Musical is now at the Aronoff Center, presented by Broadway in Cincinnati. It is based on the hugely successful 1988 Warner Brothers picture and is a thrilling experience from start to finish. 

Beetlejuice (the movie) cemented the partnership of Tim Burton (director and designer) and Danny Efron, now a genre of quirky, dark fun. Eddie Perfect is responsible for music and lyrics of this stage version of Beetlejuice the Musical, which opened and closed on Broadway in early 2020.  Book by Scott Brown and Anthony King. They have taken the story and leveraged Lydia’s grief, and perhaps the audience’s relationship with their moms. Beetlejuice explores a world where the dead meet the living, and it does so with a satisfying Burton-esque flair.

The pre-show atmosphere transports the audience from the outside world to the whimsical realm of Beetlejuice. (Some of the credit must go to the opening night crowd who donned stripes, lots of black, tiny hats, and goth touches.)

The Plot 

The story begins with the funeral for Lydia’s mom, setting the tone for a tale that skillfully balances teen angst with genuine grief. Her father feels it’s time to uproot the family and moves from NYC into a Connecticut farmhouse. Their life coach comes along as they bulldoze the cottage core charm of the house into midcentury modern grays. Lydia soon discovers the house is haunted by the former owners, and finds the love and support she needs from them. Together they plan to scare her father back to NYC, but the results are not as planned. 

Pictured (L-R): Isabella Esler (Lydia) and Justin Collette (Beetlejuice). Photo by Matthew Murphy

The Performances

Isabella Esler, a recent high school graduate, delivers a standout performance as Lydia, capturing both sweetness and a power with a commanding voice which steals the spotlight from the titular character. This girl is going places! 

Her opening ballad makes you re-think the story, yet it is immediately interrupted by Beetlejuice, poking fun at our relationship with death–and $15 wine at intermission (actually it is either $8 or $10!)

The demanding role of Beetlejuice is in the capable hands of understudy Matthew Michael Janisse. His performance is strong, and full of energy and foul language. Between the two of these performers alone, the musical is a must-see. (I would love to see the acclaimed Justin Collette in the role, wondering if his Beetlejuice leverages more of a naughty boy energy which might make Beetlejuice more magnetic.) 

But wait, there’s more!

Ryan Breslin (quite a capable understudy) and Megan McGinnis as Adam and Barbara, respectively, bring a great story arc to life, making their characters more likable than in the movie. Sarah Litzsinger as Delia adds a fun, quirky energy with a great voice, while Jesse Sharp portrays Charles with authority, stiffness, and later, a surprising depth of love and care.

So many great characters: Larkin Reilly’s portrayal of Miss Argentina is crisply executed and sparkly, adding another layer of excitement to the show. Jackera Davis gets laughs as the Girl Scout. Abe Goldfarb is an over-the-top Otho (in a deviation from the movie). Maxie (Brian Vaughn) and Maxine Dean (Lexie Dorsett Sharp) have strong comedic moments as well.

Danielle Marie Gonzalez (Miss Argentina) and Tour Company of Beetlejuice. Photo by Matthew Murphy

The Creative Team

The fast-paced production, directed by Alex Timbers, keeps the audience engaged with split-stage scenes and seamless transitions. Choreographer Connor Gallagher ensures the ensemble is lively with creative and acrobatic moves. The set (David Korins) stays true to Burton’s original inspiration, creating a visually stunning backdrop for the unfolding story.

The visual spectacle is further enhanced by William Ivey Long’s costumes, almost cartoon-like transitions with projections by Peter Nigrini, and the atmospheric and rock-concert lighting by Kenneth Posner. The pit is lively (Musical Director and Conductor Andy Grobengieser) and mics well balanced (Sound by Peter Hylenski).

The second act begins with a literal bang, the energy escalates, ensuring that viewers are in for a thrilling ride. Some of the top number include “Dead Mom,” “Say My Name,” and “Creepy Old Guy” as well as the dinner party and closing number. 

Pictured (L-R): Kate Marilley (Delia) and Jesse Sharp (Charles). Photo by Matthew Murphy

Overall

Beetlejuice the Musical successfully captures most of the great images from the beloved original, providing a delightful and entertaining experience for PG-13 audiences. (You will see the shrunken head man, the football team, and hear “Day-O” and “Jump in the Line.”)

Beetlejuice is worth braving the cold. The show shines brightly–if not sometimes garishly–on stage, united by a tight Burton-esque color palette.

Tickets to Beetlejuice

So don your coat and goth apparel, and warm yourself by Beetlejuice’s flashing neon lights. Beetlejuice the Musical runs through Sunday, January 28. The performance is about 2 and ½ hours. Get tickets at https://cincinnati.broadway.com/shows/beetlejuice/