When a show is so insecure it feels it has to state it’s not like the film on which it’s based: “Holy crap…such a departure…,” worries about reaction… “Don’t be freaked/Stay in your seats/I do this bullshit eight times a week…,” and does so with crass, juvenile vocabulary, you know it’s catering to the lowest common denominator.
There’s an excrement joke and lots of swearing; women sing about loving “creepy old guys” vis a vis Bettlejuice’s underage bride. “Have you guys seen Lolita, well, this is just like that but fine.” He has the hots (and hands) for straight Adam Maitland…
Synopsis: Lydia Deetz, an adolescent Goth, (Sophia Anne Caruso, who sings well but is way too old and needs to be deadpan), has just lost her beloved mother. Widower Charles Deetz (Adam Dannheisser – zero personality), accompanied by lover and life coach, Delia, a red-headed, dumb blonde (Leslie Kritzer – hands down the best thing in the show), moves them out of the city to an old house he plans to redecorate as the first in a proposed gated community. Everything depends on white whale investor Maxie Dean (Danny Rutigliano – just fine, think Stubby Kaye in Guys and Dolls).
The house is “occupied” by ghosts. Previous owners, Adam (Rob McClure) and Barbara (Kerry Butler) Maitland die in a restoration accident we observe, and seem stuck, unable to find their way to the Netherworld. The two are as square, sweet, and guileless as they come “… on the Pottery Barn and white wine side” and well represented by actors. McClure especially glows with nerdy innocence.
Also dead and omnipresent is the obnoxious, ostensibly lonely Beetlejuice (Alex Brightman chewing scenery as if starved) who will do anything to get someone to say his name aloud three times so he can be seen. “I’m as invisible as a gay Republican.”
Beetlejuice wants the Maitlands to help frighten the Deetzes away but the scariest things the young couple can think of are “the Trader Joe’s parking lot” (her) and The Electoral College (him). These two have some of the best lines. Possibly realizing this, Beetlejuice cracks that though his name’s on the marquee, “You’re going to see a new show, The Maitlands, which is more boring than Brigadoon.” Are you getting the level of humor here?
Long story short, assuming you don’t know the film, Lydia can see the ghosts. In cahoots with them, she wrecks her father’s plans and takes over the house. A possession scene, featuring the iconic calypso number, is, in fact, funny, as is scaring to death a succession of innocuous functionaries who come to the door (excepting the girl scout with a heart condition). Oh, and anything performed by Leslie Kritzer.
Beetlejuice wants more, however, and must himself be royally thwarted (spoiler alert: brought back to life and violently killed again – by Lydia) before everyone else ends up in domestic harmony.
What made the movie a cult classic, like any successful farce, was characters playing it straight. Its silliness worked. Even Michel Keaton’s desperate, wily, over the top Beetlejuice was sincere. He was a bumbling villain we loved to hate whereas Brightman’s take is mean and distasteful. The zany film had finesse and Tim Burton. This vehicle is heavy handed and obvious from the get-go.
Pretty much anything Director Alex Timbers did before was infinitely better. Granted he’s stuck with this material and cast (though Brightman was undoubtedly his choice), but this piece is self conscious and ungainly.
Music is generic. Lyrics fare just a smidge better. The book seems rewritten and updated to no positive end.
David Korins Scenic Design offers a nicely skewed and crafted house, attic, and roof, but two redecorations are generalist, one with stripes and teeth. Netherworld is “indicated” by cliché geometry. The show’s opening scrim makes us yearn for Edward Gorey.
Peter Nigrini’s Projection Design looks picked up from Photoshop.
Lighting by Kenneth Posner is fine on, but especially effective off stage, over the theater floor.
Michael Curry’s enormous puppet sandworm and shrunken heads are great. Special Effects designed by Jeremy Chernick; Magic & Illusion by Michael Weber work well.
Delia’s sixties look seems out of place for the contemporary interpretation and we could do without the gold-skinned cheerleaders (don’t ask), otherwise William Ivy Long’s costumes are splendid.
Hair & Wig Design by Charles G. LaPointe are reliably excellent.
All in all it’s better than King Kong.
The audience seemed to enjoy it.
Photos by Matthew Murphy
Opening- Alex Brightman
Music & Lyrics-Eddie Perfect
Book-Scott Brown & Anthony King
Based on the Geffen Company Picture with story by Michael McDowell & Larry Wilson
Directed by Alex Timbers