Review: Beetlejuice by touring company
by Brian Paul Scipione

The name Beetlejuice was derived from Betelgeuse, the second brightest star in the constellation of Orion. yet for many a fan it is the brightest star in the Tim Burton cinematic universe. The idea for the movie came to writers Michael McDowell and Laurence Senelick when they were at home trying to write a screenplay inspired by Ghostbusters and Poltergeist but were increasingly annoyed by their family members. Thus came the clever idea of ghosts being tormented by the living and calling on the services of the titular human exorcist.


While the original film script was famously much darker along the lines of a true horror movie, it soon evolved into the cult classic whacky comedy it is known as today. One of the reasons it remains such a fan favorite is the winning combination of Burton’s lunatic carnivalesque aesthetic and Danny Elfman’s fantastic music. The film was such a critical and financial success that it was adapted into a successful animated series and in 2018 a musical with music and lyrics penned by Eddie Perfect and a book by Scott Brown and Anthony King. After premiering at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. the play moved to Broadway in 2019 and later began its national tour in 2022.


Justin Collette (via touring company)


The musical maintains much of the beloved Burton aesthetic but the loss of Elfman’s brilliant musical styling is deeply felt throughout. At best, Perfect’s score can be described as Elfman-adjacent. It is manic and jarring without any of the smooth transitions and triumphant crescendos that mark the film’s original score. With his masterpiece A Nightmare before Christmas Elfman showed a deft hand at crafting riveting melodies and powerful vocal lines. Why Elfman or his music wasn’t tapped for this production is a compelling question. Maybe it was avarice or maybe it’s because all of Elfman’s current efforts are focused on the upcoming and long-awaited cinematic sequel to Beetlejuice slated to debut this year.


Isabella Esler, Justin ColletteEddie Perfect certainly recognized and publicly commented on the daunting task given to him. “Beetlejuice is like a vessel for thousands of demons, and then things explode out of him. I thought the music needed to do that as well. The opening number alone has got a requiem followed by ska, followed by banjo folk, followed by death metal.” Perfect’s questionable definition of death metal aside, his intentions were spot on. However, his mélange of musical genres is definitively less than the sum of its parts. A maelstrom of meandering melodies muddled together in a mire of mayhem bordering on madness. Instead of too many cooks spoiling the pot, we have one who seems to be attempting to appease a thousand different palates.


The cast does an admirable job of working around this one notable and nearly fatal flaw by bringing an outsized exuberance to every song and scene. Justin Collette (Beetlejuice) and Isabella Esler (Lydia) share many moments of delightful interaction with the former sinking his teeth into the spontaneous mania that defines his character and the latter doing an amazing job of showcasing the musical’s new interpretation of Lydia as more manipulative and in control and less of a damsel in distress. The table read between these two most have been as energetic and beautiful as Mahler’s symphony #9.


(via touring company)


The set design is amazing, and it is no surprise that David Korins won an Outer Critics Circle Award for his work. Though some have referred to this set as a bit of sensory overload, it is truly the only aspect of fan service that this production has gotten correct. And herein lies the denouement: if you are a fan of all things Beetlejuice then this is a must-see production. It is certainly a spectacle full of sound and fury signifying… well, you know the rest.

touring company

February 06 - February 11, 2024
Bass Concert Hall
2350 Robert Dedman Drive
Austin, TX, 78712

February 6 - 11, 2024

Bass Concert Hall, Austin