I just saw the touring production of the on-again, off-again Broadway musical “Beetlejuice,” and sad to say it felt rather lifeless, all puns intended. Don’t get me wrong, the musical is filled with the frenetic energy one expects from a staged version of Tim Burton’s cult favorite film. The sets by David Korins enhanced by Kenneth Posner’s lighting design provide the appropriate visual quirkiness. But in the transition from screen to stage, the musical’s book by Scott Brown and Anthony King comes off surprisingly flat. I say surprisingly because unlike the film where Beetlejuice is really a secondary character and the emphasis is on the married and soon-to-be deceased couple, Barbara (Britney Coleman) and Adam (Will Burton), the reverse is true for the musical. It reduces these roles to the point where they feel underdeveloped and worse, bland. The focus now is on the relationship between Lydia and Beetlejuice.
The score by Eddie Perfect is also too non-descript to ratchet up the show. It begins promisingly with “The Whole Being Dead Thing” but then never comes near that number’s cleverness and energy. It says something that the best songs in the rest of the show were “Day-O” and “Shake Señora,” neither of which were written for the musical.
At the performance I attended, Lydia was performed by Jackera Davis, the understudy for the role. Although she had a strong singing voice, she lacked the stage presence and charisma needed to make this pivotal part work. The role of Beetlejuice was also performed by the understudy, Michael Biren. He gave a strong performance in a part that demands a super high energy level throughout the show.
It’s not that “Beetlejuice” is a bad musical, in fact there were many laugh inducing moments throughout the show. But it feels as if director Alex Timbers often utilized overly busy staging, visual shocks and surprises to cover up the lack of solid content. As a fan of the film, I was hoping for more.
“Beetlejuice” is playing at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood through July 30 and then returns to Southern California’s Segerstrom Hall in Orange County April 16 – April 28, 2024.