No, don’t say it the third time or you’ll have him appear wherever you happen to be reading this and then your life will really go off the rails! Isn’t life stressful as it is without a deceased maniacal entity claiming your attention at every move? We find out watching Beetlejuice at the Hollywood Pantages Theater where it runs through July 30th. It is worth getting to the Pantages Theater early in order to take in the phenomenal sculptures and Art Deco motif of the lobby and second floor. There is so much detail and glorious history in the building, with such a lovely blend of yesteryear panache and old-world elegance. There were also the eclectic audience members to peruse. Many wore black and white striped outfits as a tribute to Beetlejuice himself while others sported all black Victorian mourning clothes replete with veils and lace. A good number of people were in full zombie make-up. Apparently, Beetlejuice is the modern-day equivalent of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
As the audience is being seated, the front curtain sports a massive neon sign that says, ‘Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice…’ and has an arrow pointing to a gap in the curtains where an eerie green light is spilling out through a mist hovering above the floor. This is a tacit invitation to finish the triad by saying ‘Beetlejuice’ once more and thereby manifesting him on this very stage, which happens momentarily. This was a clever invite to the antics about to follow.
The show begins with two very stressful situations that set up the action for the entire show. We are introduced at the outset to a funeral which could have been pulled straight out of an Edward Gorey book. The ensemble delivers this choreography beautifully and punctuates the song sung by Lydia Deetz (Isabella Esler). All of the choreography in the show by Connor Gallagher is performed with gleeful abandon by the entire cast. This number introduces Lydia and her father, Charles Deetz (Jesse Sharp). Isabella Esler is a powerhouse with a soaring voice and Mr. Sharp compliments her well in vocals and as her father. It is Lydia’s mother and Charles’ wife, Emily Deetz, who is in the coffin. Lydia is bereft at the loss of her mother and feels invisible and sad.
As the funeral breaks up Beetlejuice is revealed. At this the audience whooped and hollered and broke into riotous applause. This audience knew what they were getting into and could nott wait for the wild ride to begin. Beetlejuice (Justin Collette) did not disappoint but launched into ‘The Whole Being Dead Thing’ with great gusto. Mr. Collette is wonderful to watch. His character has very funny lines and not a few were improvised. His quicksilver changes of mood and emotion are manic in the way of Robin Williams as the Genie in ‘Aladdin.’ This Beetlejuice differs from the film in that he is not just female oriented. We see him also go after Adam (Will Burton) as well as Barbara (Britney Coleman). He is an equal opportunity sexist. His vocal work is exceptional as he delivers songs in his signature raspy quality, but then hits far different marks when he is mimicking a female character or switching to his own range. His energy is fantastic. He has a little bit of Jack Skellington in him from ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ as well as some Bugs Bunny, especially when he kisses Adam as Bugs kisses Elmer Fudd.
Adam and Barbara Maitland are a squeaky-clean, small-town couple who do arts and crafts and restore their old Victorian home to keep themselves from accepting the responsibility of having a child. They display a great deal of stress over whether to bring a baby into their world or not. They do want one, but by the time they agree their lives are over. Burton and Coleman are perfectly wholesome in their roles, and it is dark fun to see Beetlejuice turn their perspectives upside down by his antics. Kate Marilley as ‘Delia,’ Lydia’s life coach and Charles’ lover, rounds out the Deetz family. Delia’s numbers are comedic and broad in terms of physical comedy. She has a great voice and plays the earnest girlfriend as slapstick. She has a few pratfalls worthy of Vaudeville. Two other characters that are very entertaining are Otho (Abe Goldfarb) and the Girl Scout (Jackera Davis). Each have their own scene that they inhabit amusingly, and both display a marvelous sense of the absurd as they navigate their ridiculous situations.
The sets and costumes are fantastical and skewed to the degree that lets us know this is a nightmare! No more so than in the Netherworld sequence with the ‘Twilight Zone’ descending tunnel. Thanks to David Korins and William Ivey Long respectively. Kenneth Posner’s lighting design in this show is extremely effective and helps create and sustain the eerie atmosphere of the netherworld; he transports us completely. The gorgeous projection design by Peter Nigrini adds a sense of the macabre to the set changes, rendering them as scenes out of Edgar Allen Poe and making them seem unnoticeable. Deftly done. By the way, there is a reference to Edgar Allen Poe, but it is dismissed as ‘no one reads anymore.’
Although a family can have a great time at this show, it should be mentioned that it is full of high camp with many sexual innuendos and a healthy dose of swearing. It would be PG13 on the rating scale due to language. It does not seem suitable for the little ones. This is a show about death. It is highly diverting as a fantasy about the afterlife and the netherworld and all of the characters sing, dance, and make us laugh. It should be remembered that part of the plot and arc of the show revolve around the death of Emily Deetz, Lydia’s mother and Charles’ wife. She does not come back from the dead, nor is she a character in the show. She stays dead and is forever out of reach of Lydia and Charles. This being a real-life reminder in the middle of all the cacophonous fun that although we have transformed our relationship with death into a very entertaining show, it still quietly awaits us all.
For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit the Hollywood Pantages Theatre website.
Written by Brian Fretté for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Beetlejuice – (L-R): Britney Coleman (Barbara), Will Burton (Adam), Isabella Esler (Lydia) and Justin Collette (Beetlejuice) – Photo by Matthew Murphy