Life, death and revival: Beetlejuice on Broadway

December 9, 2021

In 1988, Tim Burton was fresh off of directing Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and was looking for something new and exciting to make. The common scripts being sent around at the time were more of the same Hollywood drivel, things that would not have done anything for Tim Burton’s iconic directorial vision. Except for Beetlejuice.

Though it received mixed reviews initially, audiences loved Beetlejuice. It was not afraid of taboo topics like family values and death, while still being told in a strange but ultimately entertaining way.

Now it’s achieved cult classic status and is one of Burtons most famous films. The question is, how does one adapt a story with such a legacy for the stage?

Warner Brothers was desperate to adapt one of their large movies into a musical. After seeing the success of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast musical, as well as the middling reviews for their past theatre ventures, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Elf, the idea to adapt Beetlejuice came into play. If it was successful, it would bring the classic back to relevance, increase DVD sales and of course, make money. All of this was very appealing to Warner Brothers, and so they got to work.

First, they got the theatre director Alex Timbers on the project, soon followed by Anthony King and Scott Brown as writers. It would be another 5 years after this before the script was ready for a composer. Eventually, future composer for the musical, Eddie Perfect, sent in two songs. Notably, The Whole “Being Dead” Thing, a blend of musical genres and tones that was perfect for the character. Through many casting calls, they got Sophia Anne Caruso for Lydia and Alex Brightman for the title role.

After all of this, Beetlejuice had its world premiere. This was the culmination of almost 8 years of hard work and it was slowly gaining hype in the theatre world. It was almost certain that Beetlejuice would be big. That being said, it launched to very mixed reviews.

Trendier publications were praising it for being daring and capturing the unusual tone of the original film, whereas more traditional publications called it desperate and crass. There were over 600 notes in total after the 5-week premier. By opening night, the whole show had been revised beyond compare, with songs being cut, rewritten and wholly changed. Alex Timbers did not want the show to be watered down but rather more accessible to a wide variety of audiences with more emotional beats.

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After all of this revision and hard work for the show, one would think that the reviews would be more positive, but it again released to largely mixed reviews. It was the negative reviews from the veteran publications that would ultimately send Beetlejuice to its death.

These critics were never going to be the ones to enjoy Beetlejuice, however. Despite theatre being built and fed by innovation and new things, what’s often praised right out of the gate is the status quo. Beetlejuice the musical is loved by audiences today, but the bad word of mouth from publications like the New York Times and Variety were too damaging, and the show came up half a million dollars short of the estimated income.

Many shows in the past had failed due to not finding their audience in time, and it seemed as though the same fate awaited Beetlejuice. The difference here, however, was that Beetlejuice had the internet. Tik Tok and Tumblr gave the show tons of new exposure and this increased revenue and ticket sales past what anyone had been expecting.

Beetlejuice was the most streamed soundtrack of the 2018-2019 season across all streaming platforms. It was officially saved, with over 200 million streams and high ticket sales.

Despite all of this, the theatre they were performing at shut them down, due to an offer for the music man with Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, both guaranteed stars in a classic show. The status quo won over the creative again. After this, Sophia Anne Caruso abruptly left the show, and the producers were frantically looking for another space to perform in. However, Broadway has very limited theatre space and the set was specifically designed for the Winter Garden Theatre, which they had just been evicted from. Beetlejuice simply could not survive the eviction and settled to go out strong.

Only three months after this, in March of 2020, the pandemic hit. This crushed any small hope Beetlejuice had of returning to the theatre. Recently, however, some hopeful news was released to the public in September of 2021. Beetlejuice has been revived!

In April of 2022, the show will be returning to the stage and will again be able to be enjoyed by fans of the show and soundtrack. Look out for an upcoming Beetlejuice resurgence and listen to the wonderful soundtrack as preparation for this exciting news!

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