Beetlejuice at The Orpheum Theater
Beetlejuice is based on the 1988 Tim Burton film of the same name, it’s a film I’d seen a couple of times but not in a long time. On a rewatch in prep for this touring production, I was surprised at how little the character of Betelgeuse is actually in the movie. That is something this Musical adaptation or perhaps more accurately stated, riff on the original, changes for the positive. It’s safe to say if you come to Beetlejuice expecting a faithful adaptation of the film you are going to be disappointed…briefly. Once the show gets going, which is pretty much from the moment the curtain rises, you’ll be so entertained you won’t be able to hold those expectations in your mind, you’ll be too distracted by the spectacle on stage. And by spectacle I’m referring to Betelgeuse. I’ve talked before of the over reliance on adapting movies into Broadway musicals, sometimes they are fine, just as often they are ever so less than fine, but more rarely they are improvements on the source material. Beetlejuice belongs squarely in the latter camp. Is it Les Miz? No, but if you are going to a musical named Beetlejuice, I hope you had your expectations set squarely in the entertainment camp not the emotionally resonant camp. As an entertainment and a visual feast of theatrical showmanship, Beetlejuice is like Affleck in Phantoms, the bomb.
Beetlejuice is not just a funny show with good songs and wonderful cast, it’s also a visual treat
Bravo to the the creative team behind the show, Scott Brown and Anthony King who wrote the book and Eddie Perfect who wrote the music and lyrics for not being afraid to throw away the movies script and marking out their own path. There are some basic elements that are the same but more differences than there is the same. But fear not, the two musical moments everyone knows and loves from the film are intact. How could they not be? Surely it was those moments that inspired someone to think of turning the property into a musical in the first place. The primary changes are to have Betelgeuse enter the story from the very beginning and a subplot about Lydia’s dead mother. Betelgeuse is the star of the show, it’s the anarchic spirit of the bio exorcist that gives the show it’s anything can happen energy. Having him there throughout the entire show rather than just turning up for a few bursts of comedic chaos gives the show it’s momentum. His storyline which is to become human gives the show the engine that progresses the plot. Lydia, whose family has moved into the house of the recently deceased Adam and Barbara, gives the show it’s heart. Her loss of her mother informs every decision she makes and it allows for her characters journey to be wildly different from the film and makes the character of Lydia much richer than simply a disaffected teenager. As for the songs, they are usually of the funny over the top audience pleaser variety but among the best of that style, they’re post-modern, a little bit raunchy, and a whole lot of fun. It starts from the second song, “The Whole ‘Being Dead’ Thing” which is basically Betelgeuse singing directly to us. There are a couple of more serious songs that Lydia sings that are really quite beautiful like “Prologue: Invisible”, “Dead Mom”, and especially “Home”.
Now the main character is in the title and Matthew Michael Janisse is fantastic as Betelgeuse, he sings and talks with short of a gravelly voice but gets a couple of moments here and there to show us he also has some more traditional vocal skills. Janisse embraces the chaos of the character and is like a live action Looney Tunes character, one with a highly developed sense of dark humor. As great as Janisse is and believe me, he is, the one that knocked my socks off was Isabella Esler as Lydia. I told my wife that in the car on the drive home, as I sat down to write and perused the Playbill a little more I discovered this is Esler’s, a recent high school graduate, first professional acting role. I was playing some of the original Broadway cast recording to refresh myself on some of the songs and hands down Esler blows the Broadway Lydia away in the vocal department. For a brief period she teams up with Betelgeuse and she matches his playfulness perfectly, this young woman has a bright future ahead of her. The rest of the cast are all good, I want to get this resolved up front so you don’t spend the entire show distracted by it. Will Burton who plays Adam, the recently deceased homeowner, will remind you of Mikey Day from SNL. It’s not him, but that’s who he’s reminding you of so now you can move on. You’re welcome.
Beetlejuice is not just a funny show with good songs and wonderful cast, it’s also a visual treat from the costumes and set design to the various projections used and puppets including a giant sand worm. It all has the look of one of Tim Burtons’ stylish films in just the right way. Beetlejuice runs through September 24th at the Orpheum theater as part of the Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Bank of America Broadway on Hennepin season. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://hennepintheatretrust.org/events/beetlejuice-broadway-tickets-minneapolis-mn-2023/
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Photo by Matthew Murphy, 2022