The similarities between the 1988 Tim Burton–directed film Beetlejuice and its stage musical adaptation don’t stop at the comedy-horror plot and eerie ambience. Both developed cult followings that sustained their impact years after their debut. For the Broadway musical, its fans (called the Netherlings) were a big reason it was reincarnated postpandemic. Nearly three years after its original April 25, 2019, opening at the Winter Garden Theatre, Beetlejuicereopened April 8, 2022, at the Marquis Theatre with hundreds of Netherlings present to summon back the Ghost With the Most.
The fans’ enthusiasm of the show has spilled from the theatre to social media, where they express their devotion through vibrant fan art, impressively detailed cosplay, and spectacle-filled TikToks. As the Tony-nominated musical gears up for the title ghoul’s favorite holiday with a spooktacular celebration, Broadway Direct sat down with Dana Steingold — whose character, Girl Scout, has become a showstopping fan favorite — to chat about Beetlejuice’s beloved fans.
The film has such a strong cult following. How do you think the Broadway show pleases those movie fans as well as theatergoers who are being introduced to the story for the first time?
The show satisfies the itch of the huge Beetlejuice movie fan because it is packed with Easter eggs. But also, for any newbies, the musical smartly refocuses the journey on Lydia. In order to make a new musical, there has to be something at the center of it. I think [the creative team] decided that Lydia has an interesting journey, with the loss of her mother and the Maitlands dying, and that friction between parental figures. There’s something for everybody.
The show also strikes a balance between some intensely dark humor and more tender, heartfelt moments, which isn’t easy. What makes those different layers work together?
I think what’s always drawn people to our show is that we have a young woman at the center of it, who is not a princess, she’s not trying to be loved, she’s not even seeking friendship. She just wants to be seen and understood. She’s moving through very real emotions: grief, depression, attempted suicide — these very real things that we’re approaching through humor, but I think that feeling strange and unusual and misunderstood is a very common theme for most teenagers and, frankly, most adults.
There are definitely layers within it all.
It takes you by surprise, right? It’s Beetlejuice. You’re going on this journey that’s humorous and hilarious, with this huge, crazy set and it is a big, splashy spectacle, but then it has a heartfelt impact. At the center, it’s a very small, emotional family drama.
Have you gotten messages from the fans about its impact?
It’s been really incredible to see how many people write in and say, “I’ve never felt myself on stage before,” or “The show means so much to me, it got me through such a hard time in my life,” or “I was bullied.” This show means so much to people, and being in a show like this that connects with the fans has really been the biggest gift.
The fans have been such a significant engine in powering the show.
From the very get-go, it’s been a fan-based show. [When we first opened] we weren’t sure we were going to make it past May or June — we really had no idea. Then the Tonys happened and the cast recording came out, and that was sort of a huge turning point. Slowly, the stage door sort of started with five people, then 25 people, then all of a sudden there were 100 or 200 people waiting after every performance. The most incredible part has been seeing the friendships that have developed because of Beetlejuice. Sometimes they’ve met each other online because they were fans of the show and the first time they met in real life was at Beetlejuice. People say theater is silly, but honestly, it proves that all you need is one person who gets you; you need one good friend in your life and you feel understood by this one person — that was enough to get them through the school year. Those have been the most beautiful stories.
Beetlejuice fans are so creative — the cosplay, the fan art, the TikToks.
We’ve had the greatest cosplay ever. The costumes that I see are so accurate. I get messages asking, “Can you send close-up shots of your Girl Scout sash?” or “What’s the detail of Lydia’s lace like?”
Which characters get cosplayed the most?
Beetlejuice, and definitely just a black-and-white-striped theme. Lydia’s red wedding dress is a big one because that’s iconic from the movie too. There are a lot of Lydia’s black dresses with the safety pins. I do see Girl Scouts too.
Have there been any cosplays you’ve been surprised or impressed by?
One time for a costume contest, someone did half Beetlejuice, half Lydia! Like, fully split down the middle. That took quite a bit of effort. There’s one person who has an incredible Juno costume that is truly out-of-this-world accurate. There are people who dress up as the people in the Netherworld, who are on stage for, like, three seconds. It’s amazing what people latch on to.
Beetlejuice was ahead of the trend with TikTok. You were taking off before the pandemic and shutdown. What have you loved seeing on that platform?
I’m always impressed by the people who play all the roles and they have cosplay for each one of them. During the pandemic, a group of kids — who are so talented — did an online virtual Beetlejuice and they re-created the entire show. It was called Beetlejuice: The Online Musical — The Unauthorized Musical Parody. They gave us DVDs of it for opening night. The talent is unbelievable. They were all amazing. We all dropped into the Zoom when they performed it. Book writers Scott Brown and Anthony King came in, and [Alex] Brightman [who plays Beetlejuice] and I dropped in and watched pieces of it and surprised them. Scott and Brightman were both so moved by what they were doing.
You’ve really all embraced being digital ambassadors for the show. What has that been like?
In the beginning, we actively all started engaging with the people who were hashtagging Beetlejuice, and basically anything we were tagged in. Kerry [Butler, who plays Barbara] started doing it, and then Rob [McClure, who plays Adam] and Alex, and everybody followed suit. We’ve got so many amazing messages, and I think we all sort of banded together and thought, “There’s no harm in responding and saying thank you.” Especially now, since we don’t have a stage door, I think our social media has become a huge part of the community.
October is a big month for the show. Are there any exciting activities you can share?
October is like Beetlejuice Christmas. We have amplified our cosplay with weekly costume contests. On special nights in October we will be giving audience members “Strange and Unusual” swag, we will be releasing new Spooky Digital Content, and we are making some fun cosmetics content with MAC. We are even working with Headcount to help get out the vote this November. Come see the show for the first time this October, or come see it for the 20th time. It’s always fun. There’s something for everybody. I think it’s a perfect gateway drug into musical theater.
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