If you have fond memories of the charm and whimsy of Tim Burton’s deliciously ghoulish 1988 fantasy- comedy BEETLEJUICE, they will be obliterated by the stage musical version. The bloated production with a ludicrously convoluted book and a noisy, unmemorable score seems inexhaustibly entertaining only to itself.
The playwrighting team of Scott Brown, a former theatre critic, and Anthony King, a television writer, making their Broadway debut has expanded the film’s plot. Adam and Barbara Maitlands, a square, childless couple, occupy a big Victorian country house as ghosts. The new owner, architect Charles Deetz, doesn’t have a wife as he did in the movie: instead he’s widowed and has an “assistant”, Delia, who’s secretly his girlfriend. Brown and King string out the story of how Beetlejuice (played by Michael Keaton in the movie) and Deetz’ kooky daughter Lydia (Wynona Ryder in the movie) conspire for the Maitlands to regain the premises, but they pile on a subplot in which Lydia, mourning the loss of her mother, runs into conflict with her father and her would-be stepmother Delia. It subsumes the original plot and when it culminates with Lydia’s trip to the netherworld, chased by her father, to find her dead mother it’s too late for a dramaturg. A traffic cop would do.
Alex Brightman as Beetlejuice, still expending as much manic energy as he did in “School of Rock” , acts like he’s having fun with a bunch of cornball, Las Vegas-style jokes. He kicks down the fourth wall in the opening number and delivers Beetlejuice’s commentary like a shameless stand-up comic. As Lydia, the tiny Sophie Ann Caruso wears a black-lace dress and scraggly, black page-boy wig so she always looks like Winona Ryder in case you lose track of the plot. The most entertaining cast member is Leslie Kritzer who as Delia gets to camp it up as Deetz’ dumb, sexpot squeeze.
The set design by the versatile David Korins (“Hamilton”, “Dear Evan Hansen”, etc) will hold your attention when story and song fail to do so. Korins has built a huge, garishly colorful set of the haunted house that changes design three times: the floral, wallpapered, bright, homey domicile of the Maitlands, the sleek, modern showcase of Deetz and the surreal, absurd lair of badboy Beetlejuice. Michael Curry has designed a huge puppet snake (yes, from the movie) that breaks the tedium. The inconsequence of it all is so relentless that even the giddy joy and sheer lunacy of the movie’s signature scene when the dinner party breaks into Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song” go missing.
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