Tim Burton’s beloved 1988 horror comedy “Beetlejuice” has been transformed into a vibrant stage musical, and its unhinged demon protagonist has spawned in Golden Gate Theatre to wreak havoc on the Bay Area. Though not without nostalgic potential, the theatrical adaptation with music and lyrics by Eddie Perfect and book by Scott Brown and Anthony King has a distinctly more juvenile flavor than its cinematic counterpart and ultimately amounts to a superficial interpretation of its source material. The musical’s plot is occasionally confusing if not somewhat misguided, but colorful performances by some standout cast members deliver enough ridiculous fun to keep the production afloat.
The musical opens at the cemetery, where goth teenager Lydia Deetz (Nevada Riley, understudy subbing for Isabella Esler) mourns the death of her mother and laments the disconnect between her and her father, Charles (Jesse Sharp). Enter Beetlejuice (Justin Collette), a grimey, stripe-wearing miscreant from the Netherworld, who hatches a plot to get somebody to say his name three times in order to gain visibility in the world of the living. He recruits the ghosts of Barbara (Britney Coleman) and Adam Maitland (Will Burton), a recently deceased couple who haunt the home into which the Deetzes and life coach Delia (Kate Marilley) relocate. When it’s revealed that Lydia can see all three otherworldly entities, Beetlejuice finds in the young girl the perfect opportunity to expand his reign of chaos.
The show’s musical numbers aren’t disappointing, but they’re far from spectacular. No songs are particularly memorable, and the soundtrack has little replay value; the music simply isn’t strong enough to stand on its own. A few numbers provide a satisfying dose of silliness and “Say My Name” offers some engaging back and forth between the two leads, but “Beetlejuice” does not present itself as a musical that prioritizes music.
More praises can be sung about the production’s set design. Dynamic and detailed constructions of the Deetzes’ new home, the attic in which the Maitlands live and the house post-Beetlejuice’s redecorating are impressive and captivating. The designs, smartly utilizing doors and stairs, also allow characters to move fully throughout the space in fluid and interesting ways. Two weaker elements include the flatness of the Netherworld, where the design fails to emulate the void’s dizzying vastness, and the repetitiveness of the corny transition projected onto the curtain between scenes. Neither are critical flaws so much as evidence of inconsistent effort. Much like the musical as a whole, it’s good enough, but not outstanding.
The humor in the production is truly hit or miss. Beetlejuice certainly delivers his fair share of abrasive raunchiness, but jokes often feel middle-school in the same breath they feel adult. However, if audiences can power through some cringiness, a few zingers definitely manage to land. Few shows are as bold as “Beetlejuice” in their pursuit of provoking laughter, which refrains from becoming offensive despite its deliberate lack of political correctness, and there is certainly much to be appreciated about this quality.
The most redeeming feature of the musical does much to elevate its overall success — “Beetlejuice” boasts a fantastic lead actor. Collette absolutely kills in his role, reviving the essence of his character in his energetic interpretation. Despicable yet likable, repulsive yet irresistible, Collette aptly steals the show whenever he is on stage. The actor has a strong background in sketch and improv comedy, and it shows; it’s not easy to properly execute delivery of Beetlejuice’s risky jokes, but Collette conquers the challenge like it is second nature. His performance is truly magnetic.
“Beetlejuice” is a bit rough around the edges and a comparatively hollow successor to Burton’s film, but the lighthearted musical still demonstrates capacity to entertain.