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From Screen to Stage: How Beetlejuice Became a Beloved Broadway Musical

The Day-O has come! Beetlejuice has returned from the dead — literally – and the musical is haunting a new theatre.

The Broadway show, based on the iconic 1988 cult classic film about a deceased couple haunting their old home, reopened April 8 at the Marquis Theatre after being forced to close for more than two years during the shutdown. When the curtain came down on March 10, 2020, no one involved would have guessed the show played its final Broadway performance at the Winter Garden Theatre.

Alex Brightman, playing the title character (we don’t dare to say his name three times) is back in his green hair and black-and-white pinstripe suit. Many in the original cast have returned too, including Kerry Butler (Barbara), Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer (Delia), Adam Dannheisser (Charles), Kelvin Moon Loh (Otho), and Dana Steingold (Girl Scout). Elizabeth Teeter joins the company as Lydia Deetz.

Since its 2019 premiere, the Beetlejuice fandom has taken on a life of its own, from fan art to TikTok videos. There are so many new fans of the story in addition to the longtime aficionados of the Tim Burton classic that starred Michael Keaton, Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, Geena Davis, and Alec Baldwin.

Director Alex Timbers breaks down some of the biggest differences and similarities of the movie versus the Broadway show.

The film Beetlejuice (1988) Brought to Life on Broadway.
The film Beetlejuice (1988) brought to life on Broadway.

On redirecting the focus of the characters

We talked a lot about the musical being a companion piece to the movie, not a souvenir booklet. One of the big changes we made was that the movie focused on the Maitlands, the Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis characters; we made the decision in the adaptation process to focus more on the relationship between Beetlejuice and Lydia, like the animated TV series. In musical-theater history, con-men figures are great protagonists for a musical, like Harold Hill or Bialystok and Bloom. We thought there was a really interesting thing about a dead guy who wants to be alive and a living girl who wishes she were dead. That became the key relationship for us. We also thought it was really interesting that the movie largely takes place with these six characters and a single house. And so we thought, Let’s make ours a haunted house show. That’s why a lot of what happens in the show, it all takes place in this one house. Then there are these practical effects and it becomes a magic box set.

On paying homage to Tim Burton’s original masterpiece

We wanted to really honor Tim Burton’s work. We wanted to reference the sandworm designs he had and the iconic Beetlejuice outfit. In the adaptation process, you want things to feel really familiar but also surprising for fans. So, the sandworms don’t quite appear in the same place as the original. We go to the Netherworld, but we go in the second act. Lydia and her father go to the Netherworld. It’s the things you’re hoping and expecting as a fan, but twisting its timing, how it appears or how it dramatically impacts the story.

The Sandworm in Beetlejuice. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
The Sandworm in Beetlejuice. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

One of the things that is so charming about the original movie is the handcrafted quality of it, like the stop motion, sandworm, and all that stuff. We can’t do a stop motion — we’re on stage, obviously. We were thinking a lot about the theatrical vocabulary that evokes the same thing. Obviously, you can do a really slick sandworm on stage or make it all video. We wanted to try to replicate the charm of what Tim Burton did. We chose to use puppetry because we were really trying to conjure that same kind of handmade, crafty, charming vibe.

On reprising some fan-favorite characters

The football players appear. The shrunken-head person appears. Miss Argentina appears. They appear in ways that are kind of different from how they appear in the movie. Hopefully it scratches the itch for fans but also surprises them a little with how they’re used.

Leslie Kritzer in Beetlejuice. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer in Beetlejuice. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

On bringing “Day-O” to the stage

We always knew the first act would end with the dinner party scene and “Day-O” because that’s where everything changes, when Beetlejuice is unleashed. Lydia gets the house to herself as her dad and stepmother leave. That felt like a big pivot point. Now Beetlejuice and Lydia have joined forces; what’s gonna happen next? That felt like a good question to carry the audience into intermission with.

On movie Easter eggs to spot throughout the Broadway show

The portrait that the Maitlands have hanging over the fireplace is literally the opening shot from the movie. There’s this nosy neighbor, Jane Butterfield, and she didn’t make it into the musical. So, there’s a tombstone with her name on it in the opening number. There’s this amazing willowy tree that’s on the graveyard hill in the opening number. It’s the only tree on the set. That’s the Tim Burton tree that exists in every one of his movies.

On changing up the opening number’s lyrics for 2022

We’ve changed some of the lyrics in the opening number to sort of welcome back the audience to the theatre. There are some new jokes. We’re trying not to make any pandemic jokes, though, because that sort of dates ourselves quickly. I don’t think people want to think about Beetlejuice talking about COVID and masks and stuff. Beetlejuice offers a release from that, hopefully.

Beetlejuice is now playing at the Marquis Theatre.

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