God, I Hope You’re Ready for a Show About Death! Beetlejuice the Musical is a Comedy Roller-Coaster at the Broward Center

Photo by Matthew Murphy

The ghost with the most has haunted Broadway with two runs and an extremely young, dedicated fanbase. Based on the 1988 Tim Burton film starring Michael Keaton and Winona Ryder, “Beetlejuice the Musical” has become a tour de force of a show. With viral success from TikTok and “slime tutorials” leading to sold-out audiences on the Great White Way, “Beetlejuice the Musical” has earned its stripes and now is heading out on a massive North American tour with a stop at Fort Lauderdale’s Broward Center for the Performing Arts with tickets available here

As a sleazy neon marquee lights point “Beetlegeuse Beetlegeuse” above the stage, concert green and purple lights circle the Broward Center house like searchlights. One-part haunted house, one-part rock concert Kenneth Posner’s Tony-nominated lighting design is fitted beautifully for the tour. Ushering the living folks into the theater, the eerie instrumental house music by Eddie Perfect has the allusions to Danny Elfman’s original “Beetlejuice” score that’s immediately broken by a lightning crack. Mourners in a graveyard surround a coffin as Lydia Deetz (Isabella Esler) laments on her mother Emily’s passing and being “invisible” to the world around her. Recent high school grad Isabella Esler is to Lydia Deetz what Jenna Ortega is to the Wednesday Addams canon. The Gen Z Colombian-American actress brings a new life to the “strange and unusual” teen that’s equal parts bratty, disinterested and yet intensely passionate to the point of tears streaming down her face as the show’s emotional core. 

Breaking the “bold departure from the original source material,” the bio-exorcist Beetlejuice (Justin Collette) emerges into the graveyard with the rip-roaring “The Whole Being Dead Thing.” As Beetlejuice, Collette works with the original framework of the Broadway cast but truly makes the part his own. The insanely demanding titular role is a constant balancing act of showmanship that requires razor-sharp comedic timing, a gritty rasp that’s betrayed by some phenomenal singing and a physicality that makes an Olympic runner look like a couch potato. Well, dear reader, I can assure you that Justin Collette has all those chops in spades here. Through an eclectic explosion of song, Collette’s Beetlejuice is somewhere between a gay Southern preacher, manic Charlie Kelly or chaotic Jack Black. As the omnipresent demon, Collette doesn’t just break the fourth wall, he utterly shatters it with some digs at the audience that make even the cast visibly gasp.

While the set of the Broadway production of the show designed by David Korins was a single massive automated house that moved up and downstage that was custom built for both the Winter Garden and Marquis Theaters respectively, the sets here are adapted to travel with the tour and fit the Broadway houses on the road. The sets utilize Korins’ signature sense of forced perspective while still creating the imaginative world that was inspired by the original film with bad art and all. Between set changes, Peter Nigrini’s projection design transitions feature bats and graveyard scenes over the purple Burton-esque swirls of the curtain. Though there are additional vamps added to allow for set changes, the pace of the show is still sharp as ever. 

Bringing the audience into the house, Adam Maitland (Will Burton) and wife Barbara Maitland (Britney Coleman) are a typical American, middle class couple experiencing the last day of their lives. The two had moved into the house but delayed the next steps of their lives of having children with a myriad of excuses in the upbeat rock track “Ready Set, Not Yet.” With original actors Rob McClure and Kerry Butler bringing such strong personalities to the roles, Burton and Coleman bring their own flavor to the couple who take death as the opportunity to finally live. Will Burton’s Adam is played more as the straight man of the show which makes his turn at the end so much more rewarding, while Britney Coleman’s Barbara is delightfully bubbly with some spectacular belting thrown in with her character’s twist. Recently announced as the first Bobbie on the “Company” North American tour, I absolutely adore her in “Beetlejuice” but cannot wait to see what Coleman does as the 35-year-old bachelorette in the Sondheim classic. 

The couple’s shocking death scene sees them return as ghosts with some absolutely stellar pyrotechnic and magic effects designed by Jeremy Chernick. As they encounter the ghost with the most in “The Whole Being Dead Thing Pt. 2,” we’re introduced to the new inhabitants of their house, the recently widowed but stoic Charles Deetz (Jesse Sharp), his gothy daughter Lydia and her ditzy life coach Delia Schlimmer (Kate Marilley). Charles’ characterization is primarily stoic, save for a few moments of swapping spit on stage with Delia, as the patriarch remains steadfast in the wake of his wife’s passing. In the song “Home” Sharp and Esler play off the perfect amount of dramatic gravity in the scene with a heaviness that would bring anyone who has ever lost someone close to them to tears. As soon as fianceé Delia, Kate Marilley plays the role originated by Catherine O’Hara in the film with all the affected diction and pseudo-intellectual enunciation of another O’Hara role, Moira Rose of “Schitt’s Creek.” Indeed, Marilley’s absolutely chaotic portrayal mixed with her mid-Atlantic accent could easily be a ringer for Moira Rose’s turn in “Sunrise Bay.” 

In its ensemble cast, the show truly finds a way for each person to shine. From playing both the fifth wife of Maxie Dean to a demonic case worker, Kris Roberts plays both the caricature of Maxine Dean as well as, the mean lady from hell Juno with massive presence for their time on stage. Abe Goldfarb also joins the tour cast from his run in the Broadway company as a Swing to full-time guru Otho on tour in a full-tilt hair-tossing Roger Debris’ inspired characterization.  Juliane Godfrey was featured at this performance and in her role as the tragic beauty queen turned bureaucrat Miss Argentina, Godfrey tango dances her way through the netherworld in a whirlwind of comedy and high belting.

While many movie to musical adaptations have been lauded for book and music playing second-fiddle to the original source material, book writer Scott Brown loads the show with enough visual jokes and meta humor to reach as broad an audience as possible while weaving in the 1988 film references in well-earned moments. Music writer Eddie Perfect also understood that with the name “Beetlejuice” comes two major song moments originally performed by the recently deceased calypso singer Harry Belafonte and uses them as motifs to bookend the acts of the show. In a rare move, you can actually listen to Perfect’s demos and cut songs along with commentary of how the show was shaped in its initial years.

“Beetlejuice the Musical” should not work as a show. The fact that it does so seemingly effortlessly, over four years from its initial run is a testament to its staying power. After a disastrous out-of-town tryout lead to massive re-writes before the cast even set foot at the Winter Garden Theater, the show struggled to gain an audience until a Tony Awards performance and viral success on TikTok saw sold-out audiences night after night. With the tour, the creative team saw a massive opportunity to re-write some of the jokes and adapt it for current humor, combined with the amount of improv the actors are allowed in the text means that the “show about death” is actually very alive.

“Beetlejuice the Musical” is an absolute roller-coaster of high comedy that feels like it’s about to nearly fly off the rails while delivering a loving tribute to the original 1988 film and the world of the living. Indeed, death plays a major role in the show with characters weaving in and out of the netherworld and grief being a driving force for Lydia. But this musical doesn’t ruminate on death and its consequences, it instead posits what it means to truly “be alive” in tackling both nihilistic and humanistic themes. Aside from its philosophical musings, the show is a definite must-see for fans of rock musicals like “Rocky Horror” and “Heathers the Musical.” “Beetlejuice the Musical” plays Fort Lauderdale’s Broward Center for the Performing Arts with tickets available here

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