“Beetlejuice” plays an open run at the Winter Garden Theatre | 1634 Broadway, beetlejuicebroadway.com
The 2018-2019 Broadway season has reached the finish line with “Beetlejuice.” And it’s yet another charmless, dumbed-down musical adaptation of a well-known movie, just like the others that have premiered in recent months (including “Pretty Woman,” “King Kong” and “Tootsie”).
In one of the strangest trends of this Broadway season, “Beetlejuice” has songs by Australian singer-songwriter Eddie Perfect, who also wrote the songs for “King Kong,” and before that had absolutely no Broadway credits.
The pedestrian pop-rock songs of “Beetlejuice” are at least a bit better than the embarrassingly insipid power ballads in “King Kong." And as in the 1988 Tim Burton film comedy, “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jump in the Line (Shake, Señora)” also make appearances. In an ideal world, Danny Elfman (who did the film’s memorably topsy-turvy underscoring) would have written the musical himself. After all, he wrote the terrific songs of the tonally similar “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
The book by Scott Brown and Anthony King (“Gutenberg! The Musical!”) plays fast and loose with the original screenplay. It gives the title character/”bio-exorcist” (originated in the film by Michael Keaton, now incarnated by Alex Brightman of “School of Rock”) a much bigger presence — including narration and self-commentary. It also provides teenage Lydia (Winona Ryder in the film, Sophia Anne Caruso in the musical) with renewed motivation, as her interest in the dead is now sparked by the recent death of her mother, as seen in the angsty solo "Dead Mom."
In the background are Adam (Rob McClure) and Barbara (Kerry Butler), who suffer untimely deaths and find a need to scare away the new family that moves into their old Victorian house.
The production (directed by Alex Timbers with lots of bells and whistles) is a flashy and freewheeling visual treat, embracing the kooky sight gags of the film and occasionally even replicating them, including a giant sandworm and Harry the Hunter (the guy with the shrunken head).
The cast is solid, including a pepped-up and gravely-voiced Brightman, assertive Caruso and delightfully dorky McClure and Butler. By not taking it seriously, “Beetlejuice” may very well offer a reasonably fun time at the theater. But don’t we expect better than that?
Perhaps “Beetlejuice” didn’t need to be a musical. What if instead it were an immersive, multilevel theatrical experience like “Sleep No More,” in which audience members could wander its many offbeat settings, including but not limited to the waiting room of the underworld and the sandworm desert? Sign me up for that.