Does “Beetlejuice” Work as a Musical?

The musical adaptation of the Tim Burton classic “Beetlejuice” began performances October 14 at the National Theatre in D.C. The theatre, which previously hosted “Mean Girls the Musical” last winter, is premiering the show before it heads to Broadway in spring 2019.

The show is directed by Alex Timbers, with music written by Australian comedian-musician Eddie Perfect, and tells the story of a “strange and unusual” teenager named Lydia, a deceased couple and a crude and crazy demon in a striped suit. It might be too far to say that the show was highly anticipated, but it seems to be warmly welcomed so far at the National Theater, especially in time for Halloween.

The dark comedy stays true to the film for the most part, but there are some differences. It would be pointless if the musical stayed exactly the same as the movie, so there are noticeable changes.

So what works and what doesn’t? The humor, some of the songs and the acting, specifically from Alex Brightman who plays the titular character, works well on stage. It was a bit of a surprise that the opening song is sung by Beetlejuice, but it actually was a good choice. It introduces the characters of Beetlejuice and Lydia who end up being more of main characters in the show than they were in the movie. The musical has a much heavier focus on Lydia (played in the movie by the mother of Halloween, Winona Ryder), the moody teenager with an obsession for death. This story gives more of an explanation to Lydia’s wish for death as a mourning for the recent loss of her mother, giving more depth to her than just being an emo teen.

Of course, the iconic “Day-O” dinner scene is kept in the show, and it’s to be expected that it’s much longer and more theatrical. All of the monsters and scary things from the movie are made into amazing and magical set props on stage.

What some might find a little disappointing is the character change in the married couple, Barbara and Adam. They’re much goofier and less of the protagonists in the musical to the point where you might forget a few times that they’re even part of the story until they show up again. It was interesting to see their anticipated death scene in the beginning. Their death by car accident in the movie is changed up for the stage, but it does make it more unexpected.

The show has a few things to work out before the end of its previews on November 18 and it might not impress everyone who’s a die hard fan of the movie. But it’s a fun show and it definitely fits as a musical way more than other adaptations have in the past.

The musical will officially open on Broadway in April 2019 at the Winter Garden Theater.