The Showest with the MostestJan 31, 2024 02:23PM ● By Daisy Hutzell-Rodman
Photo Provided by Omaha Performing Arts.
A girl was depressed for a legitimate reason, music crashed through the air in a style more reminiscent of a concert at CHI Health Center Arena than that of a performance at the Orpheum, and colors appeared ghoulishly garish for a show so well-known for its black atmosphere—these are a few of the many delightful elements of Beetlejuice. The Musical. The Musical. The Musical.
The production, which runs now through Feb. 4 at Orpheum Theater, opened Jan. 30 to a crowd of fans wearing black and white, often in stripes, as an homage to the beloved cult-classic film that has been turned into a Broadway musical. Attendees included fans of all ages, from a 10-year-old to whom Beetlejuice himself conversed with from the stage to those who have been attending theater productions for decades.
The show retains many elements of the film while turning the plot into a digestible stage play. Those who have seen the movie may be surprised as to how much the flamboyant ghost appears in the theatrical. The movie version included the titular character for less than 20 minutes, while the theatrical version focuses more on Beetlejuice himself. This heavier inclusion of Beetlejuice is reminiscent of the cartoon version film director Tim Burton executive produced from 1989-1991. The theatrical version, like the cartoon version, also shows a stronger friendship between Lydia and Beetlejuice.
One plot point that works in favor of the musical version is the inclusion of leading lady Lydia Deetz’s biological mother. In the film, Lydia mentions a couple of times that Delia Deetz is her stepmother, but Lydia’s biological mother is a mystery. The nameless matriarch in the film is known in the musical as Emily Deetz, who is buried at the beginning of the show.
While that inclusion works splendidly, one exclusion from the musical, in the form of a phrase, also worked well. The movie was released when leading actor Wynona Ryder was 17, but Lydia’s age was never clear. Former house occupant Barbara Maitland, however, scarily refers to Lydia throughout the film as a “little girl.” That phrase was, thankfully, never uttered in the musical, making Lydia’s age less important. That is critical in an age when even a teenager marrying a clearly older ghost is still creepy.
The scenery throughout the show evoked classic Burton, with subtle references to more than Beetlejuice. Specifically, a swirl and full moon come from Nightmare Before Christmas, while the clean squares or rectangles in the house design, such as in the film’s version of the fireplace, are kinked into trapezoids and parallelograms.
The main costume for Beetlejuice was striped in a subtle grey-and bold black, as opposed to the iconic white-and-black striped suit worn by Keaton. The effect was that of an aged, but upscale, prison uniform—which works when you think of the title character as a prisoner of his circumstances. At one point, I wondered if my perception of the costume was due to my eyesight, but a stunning formalwear costume worn by Delia late in the show was truly black-and-white. The dinner scene delighted in 1980s-esque shades of mauve, and yes, Lydia dressed almost exclusively in black.
The actors performed well, causing belly-aching laughs or guffaws at the appropriate moments. The special effects, from LED backgrounds to puppetry, awed and delighted the audience. The lighting, however, is at times overpowering. Attendees should be prepared for bright pops of light throughout the show, and in at least two instances, I was momentarily stunned into darkness akin to a flashlight being shone directly into my eyes. The acoustics, at times, caused the music to overpower the actors’ lines. Reportedly, the band was still working out some of the acoustics, but it is unfortunate that the sound wasn’t rectified on opening night. Speaking of the band, the music sounds as though a full orchestra sits below the stage, yet 10 musicians play all the instruments—from saxophone to trumpet to drums. The original Broadway production includes 18 musicians, so several band members play more than one instrument.
This review scratched the surface of the differences between the film and Broadway versions of Beetlejuice—but what is goth without a bit of mystery?
Tickets to the show are still available and can be procured by visiting ticketomaha.com or calling 402-345-0606.