By ROY BERKO
As the run of the awe-inspiring Hamilton draws to a close at the Playhouse Square’s State Theatre, Beetlejuice, the cult-followed farcical ghostly show appears next door at the Connor Palace.
The opening is ironic since the curtain-up Cleveland production of the Eddie Perfect (music and lyrics)/Scott Brown and Anthony King (book) parallels the final curtain falling on the show’s Broadway run.
Yes, Beetlejuice: The Musical, which opened on the Great White Way on April 25, 2019 and closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 10, 2020, reopened on April 8, 2022. It permanently closed its Broadway presence on January 8, 2023.
The long-run surprised many. Though the 1988 movie version was a huge hit, the Broadway musical’s reviews were mediocre. Comments included, “This show so overstuffs itself with gags, one-liners and visual diversions that you shut down from sensory overload,” as well as Beetlejuice: The Musical, was crafted from a group of creative minds who clearly love the source material, though not all of it works,” and, “the blithe, dizzily antic spirit of the movie was suffocating under the weight of sophomoric, phallic gags.”
It is thought that the praise for Alexander Michael Brightman, who is best known for his work as Dewey Finn in the musical adaptation of School of Rock musical which earned him Tony Awards nomination for Best Actor, and again as the title character in Beetlejuice: The Musical, as well as the success of the movie, was responsible for the long run.
What about locally? The show, which is part of the KeyBank Broadway Series, is already a success, as there is very limited ticket availability for the entire run.
Advanced publicity states, “The best option for many patrons looking to purchase may be to get individual scattered single seats around the theater instead of trying to find a group or pair together. “
What’s all the hullabaloo about?
The play opens with a group of people in a graveyard mourning the passing of Emily Deetz. Emily’s daughter, Lydia, reflects on the death of her mother and her own inability to be noticed by her father, Charles.
A millennia-old demon named Beetlejuice appears and mocks the idea of living life to the fullest, as it will all be worthless once death comes.
Beetlejuice then addresses the audience directly, explaining that, as a demon, he is invisible to all beings unless he gets a living person to say his name three times. He reveals that he has a plan to accomplish his recognition.
Beetlejuice then introduces Adam and Barbara Maitland. They are a “normal” married couple who desperately want to start a family. As the Maitland’s reason to themselves why they are not ready for a child, they fall to their deaths from electric shocks received from a series of power cords randomly draped around the house. (Remember this is a farce…no reality required.)
When the Maitland’s awaken and realize that they are dead, Beetlejuice reveals himself and offers to help them adjust to the Afterlife by intoning the song, “The ‘Whole Being Dead’ Thing, Pt. 2.” (Yes, there are also parts 1 and 3.)
He reveals to the Maitlands that a new family, the Deetzes, have bought their house and that in order to remain living there, they will have to scare the newbies away.
Thus, we enter that into a tale of non-realistic incidents in which ghosts, the living, and the ridiculousness blend together in a tale that will delight many and turn others off.
Justin Collette, who is a master of improv, and has had a successful career of playing exaggerated parts on Broadway, such as Dewey, the lead in School of Rock, takes on the Beetlejuice role. Young Isabella Esler, a recent high school graduate, shines in her professional debut as Lydia. Will Burton and Britney Coleman well-develop Adam and Lydia Maitland as they, and the rest of the cast, do due-diligence in serving as foils for Beetlejuice’s antics.
The story, which works hard at getting the audience to laugh at jokes and schticks that serve basically as escape devices doesn’t carry a message, but does induce laughs and many groans of delight.
The score includes such unmemorable songs as “The Fright of Their Lives,” “No Reason,” “Say My Name,” “Barbara 2.0” and “Ready, Set, Not Yet.” (None of which were being hummed on the way out of the theatre.)
Will you “like” the show? Depends on your affinity for farce and ability to set aside the lack of any real message.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: If you are a “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” “The Addams Family” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” fan, you , like the duo of guys sitting near me, who were dressed in costumes which paralleled Beetlejuice’s stripped outfit, sang along with the songs, and found the exaggeration and slapstick hysterical, will become “Bettlejuicers.” If Next to Normal, Rent, West Side Story, and Spring Awakening are your thing, you’ll probably find the whole thing trite and ridiculous.
Beetlejuice: The Musical, Beetlejuice: The Musical, Beetlejuice: The Musical runs through January 29, 2023 at the Conner Palace. Remaining tickets for the run can be purchased here.