Dead and Loving It – a review of “Beetlejuice”

Mike Buzzelli

By Michael Buzzelli

Lydia  (Isabella Esler, making her professional theatrical debut) is mourning the loss of her mother, when her dad (Jesse Sharp) moves her into a big, creepy Victorian whose previous occupants aren’t really ready to leave in “Beetlejuice: the Musical.”

The recently deceased Maitlands, Adam (Will Burton) and Barbara (Britney Coleman), aren’t shuffling off their mortal coil so easily. They’re inhabiting their home despite being electrocuted. They’ve made a friend on the other side,  Betelgeuse (Justin Collette), who pronounces it “Beetlejuice.” If he can get one of the Livings to say it three times he can wreak havoc, which is, clearly, his favorite thing to do.

Say it three times fast and Beetlejuice quickly goes from friend to fiend. He frightens, but in a fun way.

The play veers a bit far from the Tim Burton film, but Scott Brown and Anthony King, who wrote the book, keep the spirit (get it) of the original. Some of the changes are big:

Lydia crushes on Beetlejuice – for a hot second.

Delia (Kate Marilley) isn’t a Deetz, but she’s about to become one.

The Maitland’s get a character arc in the song, “Barbara 2.0.”

Key elements remain. Lydia must team up with the Maitlands to exorcise Beetlejuice after freeing him.

While Eddie Perfect creates all new music and lyrics, the Harry Belafonte Calypso music remains. It wouldn’t be “Beetlejuice” without a rousing rendition of “Day-O.”

Pictured (L-R): Isabella Esler (Lydia) and Justin Collette (Beetlejuice). Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

Betelgeuse is a big star, and so is Beetlejuice (Science humor). Collette rips up the gorgeous scenery and outshines the brightest lights (and there are some tremendously bright lights in this show).  The part is made for a gregarious, overwhelming presence and Collette has charm and charisma with a capital C.

Beetlejuice is a big flirt. A scary one, but a flirt, nonetheless. He flirts with Lydia, her father, the Maitlands and the audience. There are some canned “ad-libs,” but they work because of Collette’s aforementioned charm.

Esler is equally amazing. The young woman recently graduated from high school in San Jose, California and is now with a national touring company. Her solos, and she has a few, prove that her voice is powerful and emotive.

Burton (Will not Tim) does a fine job as Adam, the lovable childless geek armed with quirky but stale dad jokes. His dancing is reminiscent of the “Family Matters” character Urkel, but, underneath the jarring, jerky movements, there is a sublime grace. It takes a trained dancer to strut around in such a hodgepodge manner.

Coleman is a delight. She exudes a radiant energy. She is another irresistible member of an electrifying cast. Electrifying (that one was unintentional).

Delia is a flake. She has always been a flake, but just like phyllo dough, Delia is flaky, light and delicious.  Marillley embodies her pure essence – you could say she “possesses” the character, especially during her rendition of the “Banana Boat Song.” The actor gets to go to camp –  high camp – as the batty, whimsical madwoman.

The entire ensemble is terrific.

Beautiful scenic design by David Korins, amazing puppet design by Michael Curry and incredible special effects by Jeremy Chernick. It’s a visual feast, a modern day circus act.

Is it good? Some of us were hit with a wave of nostalgia for the original, but if you can be in the moment, you will love it. Any SUCK-YESS-FUL Life Coach would tell you to “Live in the moment.”

You might wail like a banshee at some of the bad jokes (there are some guaranteed groaners). It’s definitely goofy, campy and all sorts of weird, but that’s what makes “Beetlejuice” a blast.

If someone said, “The music guaranteed to make you jump in the line and rock your body in time,” I would say, “Okay. I believe you!”


“Beetlejuice: The Musical. The Musical. The Musical” runs from February 21 – 26 at the Benedum as part of the PNC Broadway Series. For more information, click here

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