There are few Broadway shows that have gained instant cult-classic status like Beetlejuice the musical. Based on the 1988 Tim Burton movie of the same name, Beetlejuice is a hilarious, irreverent romp that will leave you in tears of laughter while forcing you to contemplate your own mortality.
The show follows the demon, Beetlejuice (Andrew Kober on weekdays and Justin Collete on weekends), a recently deceased couple and a goth teen, Lydia (Isabella Esler), as they grapple with death, loss and what it really means to be alive. The show immediately sets expectations by breaking from the source material. It also leans into Beetlejuice’s 4th-wall-breaking abilities to explain some plot points to the audience. Beetlejuice is a lonely demon who needs a living person to say his name three times in a row. The only problem is that living people can’t see him – except for Lydia.
The musical does a fabulous job of forging its own path while making sure to hit the most memorable moments from the movie, including the iconic rendition of “Day-o” around the dining table. Tim Burton’s signature aesthetic is materfully integrated throughout the show, creating the zany yet creepy atmosphere you might expect.
If you’re not a theater geek who has listened to the sound track a few too many times (like me), you may notice a few changes from the Broadway cast recording, mostly due to set changes necessary for the touring production. Those who aren’t intimately familiar with the lyrics already may find it easy to miss some of the words. Some of this is due to the sheer volume of words in this show. Fans of Hamilton and Les Miserables know that lyric-heavy shows can sometimes lead to missing the occasional line or joke. However, the cast as a whole did have a few moments where clearer diction would be helpful.
Andrew Kober as Beetlejuice has put his own spin on the character with less rasp in his voice than either Micheal Keaton in the film or Alex Brightman on Broadway, and a bit more of a heavy-metal take on the vocals.
Isabella Esler gives a wonderful performance as Lydia. A South-Bay local who grew up performing at San Jose’s Children’s Musical Theater (CMT), she graduated from Archbishop Mitty Highschool just last year and joined the Beetlejuice cast right away. Her vocals and performance are impressive and moving, although she is still learning how to command the entire stage on her own. She is the only character to have any numbers entirely alone on stage, and in those two songs, she struggles at times to command the audience’s full attention the way she does during her moments in larger group numbers.
Run, don't walk to see Beetlejuice before it leaves town. Although the show debuted in 2018, the show takes on an additional poignancy in a post-pandemic world, where we are collectively still struggling to cope with the millions of COVID deaths and the way our world has irrevocably changed. The core themes of death, loneliness and change, have always been universal, but feel especially relevant today.
Music and lyrics by Eddie Perfect and book by Scott Brown and Anthony King. Based on the 1988 film directed by Tim Burton. Presented by Broadway San Jose.
Through: August 6, 2023
Where: San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 W. San Carlos St.
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, one intermission
Tickets: broadwaysanjose.com, 408-792-4111
Photos courtesy of Matthew Murphy