For some people, it’s all about the Super Bowl. For others, it’s all about the Oscars or the Grammys. But for us, the Tony Awards are the biggest championship of the year.
This year, the 73rdAnnual Tony Awards will take place on Sunday, June 9 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Once again hosted by James Corden, the ceremony will recognize the greatest achievements on Broadway from the 2018-19 season. Leading up to the biggest night in theater, we’ll be highlighting all five of the nominees for Best Musical, beginning with Beetlejuice.
Based on the beloved 1988 film, Beetlejuice is an uproarious comedy that is escapism in its truest form. Directed by Alex Timbers (who’s also at the helm of Moulin Rouge which opens this summer), this imaginative stage production includes music and lyrics by Eddie Perfect and a book by Scott Brown and Anthony King. Nominated for eight Tony Awards, the show tells the story of a recently deceased couple who recruit the help of a mischievous ghost named Betelgeuse (pronounced “Beetlejuice”) to help them scare away the new inhabitants of the home that they accidentally died in.
Starring as the titular deranged demon is Alex Brightman, last seen as the leading man in another film-to-stage adaptation, School of Rock (also at the Winter Garden Theatre). From the show’s opening “The Whole Being Dead Thing,” it’s immediately obvious why Brightman received his second consecutive Best Performance by a Leading Actor In a Musical nomination. Not only is his infectious energy perfectly bombastic, his comedic timing is nothing short of impeccable. Brightman is clearly fueled by the audience’s frenetic responses to his punch lines (particularly the ones unchanged from the movie) and physical humor. The fun he’s having in this flagitiously fabulous role radiates in every scene, causing practically every audience member to wear a big smile throughout the entire show.
Making her Broadway musical debut as Lydia, a gothic teen who alone can see the undead (even without saying “Beetlejuice” three times), is the wonderful 17-year-old Sophia Anne Caruso. Best known for her critically acclaimed star turn in David Bowie’s Lazarus, Caruso projects a voice of gold from underneath all the black clothing Lydia wears. She has the truest emotional journey in the musical, making her both the youngest and most mature character. Caruso’s multidimensional performance triumphantly announces the arrival of a fresh vocal force to be reckoned with. Don’t be surprised to see her star soar after enough industry folk see her steal this show with her massive voice (fun fact: Lin-Manuel Miranda was sitting in front of me and he exclaimed “wow!” just as his jaw dropped at the end of Lydia’s big solo, “Dead Mom”).
Speaking of dynamic female performers, Beetlejuice also co-stars two of the most talented women on Broadway today, Kerry Butler and Leslie Kritzer. That this duo is in a musical together at all is reason enough to buy tickets for it. Butler gets to combine elements of some of her previous iconic characters (like the mousiness of Mean Girls’ Ms. Norbury and the outlandishness of Xanadu’s Kira) to make Barbara, the newly dead original homeowner, into a hilarious standout. This is particularly on display in the number, “Maitlands 2.0,” a laugh-out-loud duet with Barbara’s husband, Adam (a reliably funny Rob McClure) about giving into their new ghoulish identities. And as Deelia Deetz, Lydia’s stepmother-to-be, Kritzer’s jocular presence is as hysterical as Brightman’s. Yet it’s her brief turn as the zombified Miss Argentina in the second act that elicits the greatest waves of sidesplitting laughter. During her song “If I Knew Then What I Know Now,” Kritzer proves that she’s just as versatile a comedienne as she is a powerhouse vocalist.
It’s abundantly clear that the show exists in a world that’s an homage to the twisted mind of film director Tim Burton. Tony nominated scenic designer David Korins does a masterful job of adapting the eccentricities of Burton’s signature style into a stunning set that somehow manages to pay tribute to it while also exhibiting its own unique look. Similarly, costume designer William Ivey Long (nominated twice this year for his work here and on Tootsie) manages to reinvent the most recognizable outfits from the movie into singular pieces that are simultaneously contemporary and true to its source material.
While hardly ranking as the most profound musical on Broadway this season, Beetlejuice guarantees a good time for both fans of the movie and those who are unfamiliar with it. The reason why it translates so well to the stage is the degree to which this production embraces and celebrates the camp factor that made the film into such a cult classic. Like the movie, the musical does not take itself seriously in the slightest and is instead a nonstop parade of bellyaching humor and over-the-top visual spectacles (yes, that even includes a giant puppet version of the two-headed snake).
For longtime fans, Beetlejuice is stuffed with the greatest hits you came to see live. For others, it’s a rowdy musical extravaganza, something akin to Spamalot meets Young Frankenstein. Either way, you’ll be chanting “Beetlejuice” way more than three times after the final curtain drops.
PHOTOS | MATTHEW MURPHY