Beetlejuice at the Winter Garden Theatre
Review by Mo Brady
Hurdling into the Broadway season just before its closing day, the new Broadway musical Beetlejuice had me experiencing an extreme case of deja vu. Not because of the well-known feature film that the musical is based on, but from a much more recent experience. You see, the show Beetlejuice reminded me of most is one that opened just two days earlier: Tootsie.
Both musicals are headlined by lovable, if unempathetic leading men. Both are beloved film properties that have been turned into joke-dense musical comedy librettos. Both shows feature standout performances by a featured actress (for Tootsie, Sarah Stiles and for Beetlejuice, Leslie Kritzer). However, where Beetlejuice outshines its counterpart five blocks south is its dizzying use of an ensemble.
The ensemble of Beetlejuice features 14 actors portraying various demons and denizens of the Netherworld. At various moments, they appear as deceased marching band members, oversized skeletons and even various of Beetlejuice himself. They seem to literally bounce off the walls of David Korins’ fun-house set, bounding on and off of the stage through hidden doorways. Or, in the case of the gravity-defying Mateo Melendez, flying on and off of the furniture.
What’s most notable about this ensemble is how much frenetic energy is required of them. While the amount of time they appear onstage is not a lot, every song they perform in is a fully-staged production number. It’s no surprise that the company features veterans of Rock of Ages (Tessa Alves) and Newsies (Ryan Breslin), as the energy level required by choreographer Connor Gallagher starts high and only climbs higher.
The production design is a feast for the eyes, one that is imbued with a healthy dose of humor. The ensemble’s Netherworld costumes, created by Broadway legend William Ivey Long, give an Easter egg hunt for the audience time and again. From Elliott Mattox as a skydiver with a fried parachute to Presley Ryan as a horse jockey, it’s fun to identify how each character passed away.
Nestled within the ensemble are standout performances by two featured actors. Dana Steingold makes a pitch-perfect Broadway debut as a cookie-hocking girl scout who unsuspectingly descends on the home of Lydia (played by Sophia Anne Caruso). In the dual roles of Maxine Dean and Juno, Natalie Charle Ellis (on for an ailing Jill Abramovitz) provided steady laughs thanks to a copious amount of scenery chewing.
While often front and center, the show’s ensemble is given little to do in terms of character development. With only four women and ten men among their numbers, they are certainly easy to spot and appreciate. Perhaps that would have further developed the show’s plot by deepening its circumstances, but that’s not the show that’s been constructed here.
Beetlejuice is a carnival ride full of fun. Lead by the winsomely mischievous Alex Brightman and achingly sincere Sophia Anne Caruso, the company takes audiences on a wild, somewhat silly but always hilarious ride. It’s not subtle, it’s not quiet, but it’s a whole lot of fun.