“Beetlejuice” Spooks Austin: A Play To Die For!

A haunting horror, a spectacular spook, Beetlejuice is the perfect pairing of frightening and fantastic. A musical that marries the macabre of death with the hilarity of just existing. I had the absolute pleasure of attending the National Broadway Tour of Beetlejuice during Press Night at the Bass Concert Hall in Austin, and I couldn’t sing its praises more if it killed me. Based on the 1988 Tim Burton classic starring Winona Ryder, the musical is a perfect, dare I say even improvement, on the source material. Premiering 30 years after the film’s debut, I originally heard about Beetlejuice through TV ads when living in New York City. Though I could never attend a showing, this musical remained on my radar. When I got to attend this year, I leaped at the opportunity, having no idea what I was in for. Safe to say, I have no regrets. 

I’d seen Beetlejuice the film before, and while it carried a gothic charm (I mean really, what girl didn’t want to be Lydia Deetz?) it wasn’t really my thing. I found certain plot holes glaring, character motivations muddy, and the overall conclusion a little confounding. Why did Lydia need surrogate parents if she already had two, albeit annoying, ones? Well. Beetlejuice the musical fixes all of that, and even improves upon the source material by breaking away from the initial plot. But before I get into that, I just have to say. Overarching feelings? Beetlejuice the musical is killer good. 

I mean the music is amazing, catchy, and unexpected. Always pushing the story further. There’s an adage in theater, in musicals the characters break out in song when the feelings become so overwhelming, it’s the only way they can express themselves. Beetlejuice uses this to a T, but again, not in the way you’d expect. While yes, that emotion can come from devastating loss, or a cry for help, in Beetlejuice it can just as easily come from the main man wanting to impress everyone with a bit. Breaking into song to break the tension, or even to…give characters a lap dance. It’s tongue and cheek, and while the musical is aware of its darkness (the play starts with a song called “The Whole ‘Being Dead’ Thing” for peets sake) it always comes back to humor. Making light of death, because as Beetlejuice says  “That’s the thing with life, no one makes it out alive.”  

Danielle Marie Gonzalez (Miss Argentina) and Tour Company of Beetlejuice Photo by Matthew Murphy, 2022

The production is phenomenal. I’ve seen Broadway shows on tour before, and oftentimes the production is the most notable thing lacking. Fewer set pieces, fewer moving parts, fewer interactive bits or surprise gags because each of those is another thing to lug across the country. It’s understandable, something I’d come to expect. But Beetlejuice throws all of that out the window. At every turn, there’s another gag, another unexpected bit. A flame appears in one’s hand, a quick change happens in the blink of an eye, someone’s floating in the air. We’re jumping on set pieces, we’re referencing the audience. Every scene a multitude of sound cues are going off. And all of this has to be so meticulously planned and lovingly crafted that it goes off without a hitch. And it was, and it did. Making it, at least production-wise, the best Broadway play I’ve seen in a while

The cast is a knockout. I know people were nervous to see Beetlejuice portrayed by anyone other than Alex Brightman, but they really struck gold with Justin Collette. His timing was brilliant, his voice felt identical to the one I’d come to expect from the snippets I’d seen of Brightman, and he gave his all the entire show. Watching him was like watching someone be possessed by the spirit of Beetlejuice himself. And Colombian-American actress Isabella Esler was the perfect Lydia to his Beetlejuice. Her sass, poise, and powerhouse vocals literally shook the room. Making it almost impossible for me to process that she was a recent high school graduate. Her role as the lead in a touring Broadway play was her introduction to the Broadway world. That is almost unheard of, and she deserves all the praise she receives. Meanwhile, the supporting cast was just as amazing, with Mattew Michael Janisse, and Megan McGinnis shining brightly among them. 

Isabella Esler (Lydia)
Photo by Matthew Murphy, 2022

Beetlejuice the musical is phenomenal, but the reason why I loved it so much wasn’t just the production, cast, and music, it was the overall story. As I mentioned previously, the musical adaptation makes some bold decisions, changing key elements of the original in ways that suit the more dramatic essence theater requires. The most noticeable change is literally how the play opens, so I don’t think I’m spoiling much in saying it. Rather than have Lydia move in with her two parents, the play opens at Lydia’s mother’s funeral, and we’re immediately told she’s been lost in this gothic mourning period ever since her mother’s recent passing. Her father hired a life coach to “help” Lydia, though he’s secretly dating her. That is the character who plays the quirky, though mildly unlikeable, “mom”  figure. Small but impactful, this decision changes everything. 

Now Lydia has motivation. She’s not just interested in death, she’s trying to find her mom. If she does end up with surrogate parents in ghost’s Adam and Barbara it makes sense, she no longer has a mother and is searching for a parental figure. The other notable change is how the play approaches Beetlejuice’s need to marry Lydia or any other mildly problematic aspects of the original. In the film, it was always so bizarre to me how underplayed this event was. Merely a small plot point in the insanity and chaos that is Beetlejuice. Well, in the play they acknowledge the weirdness, poking fun at the original script. Beetlejuice even explains that the whole thing, though disturbing, is really more of a green card kind of ordeal than an actual marriage. And that’s a great example of how this musical went. Making jokes out of aspects that were strange in the original all the while bettering the overall script. 

My seats at Beetlejuice!

The Broadway tour of Beetlejuice is happening right now, reining chaos deep into the summer. So, if you have the opportunity to see them in your city, I would highly recommend going! Not every touring company feels like a Broadway play, but this one does. It was deathly hilarious, remarkably heartfelt, and just a really good time. So if you want to be coffin’ with laughter, go see Beetlejuice this spring. 

For more information, click here


  • Camila Dejesus

    Magazine & Media Editor, Camila Dejesus has been writing since she was a child and enjoys all forms from creative writing down to narrative analysis. She graduated from Brooklyn College with a bachelor's in Television and Radio Production and works full-time at Latinitas Magazine. In her free time, she loves writing stories, water coloring, or playing songs on her Baritone Ukulele. Now, her greatest passion is finding new topics that will engage and inspire Latinx youth.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *