Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The plot focuses on its two main characters and how their storylines intersect. Beetlejuice is a demon trying to con his way into the world of the living. He just needs to figure out a way to get a living person to say his name three times. Lydia (Isabella Esler) is an introspective teen whose mother has recently died and who continually wears black as she mourns and tries to find a way forward without her mother. Her father Charles (Jesse Sharp), wanting a change in their lives, decides to move the family into the home of Adam and Barbara Maitland (Will Burton and Megan McGinnis), who recently passed away. Guru, life coach, and Charles's new love Delia (Kate Marilley) is also in tow. However, the Maitlands are still residing in their house due to Beetlejuice's manipulation, as he thinks he can use them to get himself free. When Beetlejuice discovers that Lydia, due to her grief, can see him and the Maitlands, he believes she'll be the ticket to his freedom, but Lydia has some plans of her own.
The book by Scott Brown and Anthony King hits the major plot points of the film script but also makes several changes and additions. It's understandable that the Maitlands's car crash death in the film isn't something easily re-created for the stage, so having them electrocuted due to faulty electrical wiring makes sense. Brown and King also attempt to flesh out every character and many of the film's plot points. But it's so overstuffed that not all of the changes truly succeed. It's fun to see how Delia is now Lydia's life coach and not her new stepmother, as in the film, and there is some connection to the plight of the Maitlands as well. However, the only change that hits the bullseye is how the musical shifts its focus to Lydia and shows that both Lydia and Beetlejuice feel invisible, unloved, and unseen, so they share a common bond. There is also a nice emotional moment between father and daughter that resonates under Alex Timbers' direction in the otherwise over-amplified and nonstop surrounding lunacy.
The score by Eddie Perfect is pretty much forgettable. Like the book, the lyrics are overstuffed with pop culture and topical references, many of which won't be caught due to the fast nature of the lyrics, the odd and often muffled sound balance, and the unclear line and lyric delivery. As great as Esler is as Lydia, and she is the major stand out here, she's given numerous songs to sing about missing her mother that are interchangeable. Also, almost every song ends with the same loud, bright button that appears to only be there to garner audience applause. It's as if Perfect doesn't realize that you can end musical theatre songs without these buttons.
Besides Esler, who is simply fantastic, just graduated high school and I have to imagine she will have a very worthwhile future ahead on Broadway if she chooses. The rest of the cast is also very good. Beetlejuice alternate Andrew Kober is bawdy and appears to be having a whole lot of fun playing the jokester narrator. He has great interactions with his fellow castmates as well as the audience. Megan McGinnis and Will Burton are appropriately nerdy, quirky and endearing as Barbara and Adam, respectively, and Jesse Sharp is both aloof and warm when called for as Lydia's father Charles. Kate Marilley is a knock out as the kooky Delia, and the ensemble has fun playing a number of silly supporting characters.
David Korins' fantastic scenic design is whimsical and filled with fantasy elements that provide nods to the film's creative look and feel. Korins is aided by Kenneth Posner's immersive lighting, imaginative and moving projections by Peter Nigrini, and the fun puppet designs by Michael Curry that join with Michael Weber's magic and Jeremy Chernick's special effects to create as close as possible the visual style of Tim Burton's film on stage. William Ivey Long's costumes are gorgeous and character appropriate.
While Beetlejuice has several bumps in its score and book, it still makes for one wild ride of a stage show. If you're a fan of the movie, you should be happy with how the crazy characters and otherworldly spectacle of the film is translated to the stage. You may also find that, for a show that focuses hilariously on death, it also offers a tender perspective on grief and how some people don't truly feel seen.
Beetlejuice runs through August 27, 2023, at ASU Gammage, 1200 S. Forest Avenue, Tempe AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.asugammage.com or call 480-965-3434. For information on the tour, visit beetlejuicebroadway.com.
Music and Lyrics: Eddie Perfect