Review: Wildly Over-the-top BEETLEJUICE - THE MUSICAL Spooks Laughs at OC's Segerstrom Center

Chaotic, unhinged, and replete with visual gags, this over-the-top stage musical adaptation is as entertaining as it is an overwhelming sensory overload.

By: Apr. 22, 2024
Review: Wildly Over-the-top BEETLEJUICE - THE MUSICAL Spooks Laughs at OC's Segerstrom Center
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Once I arrived at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa for the opening night performance of the national tour of BEETLEJUICE - THE MUSICAL—which continues performances through April 28, 2024—I noticed something I did not expect: cosplaying audience members in full costumes of not only its title character, but of various other characters (even minor ones like zombie football players, etc.) featured in the film that inspired it.

Perhaps because I only (finally) saw the film recently, that I didn't realize that this iconic 1988 Tim Burton dark comedy has flourished this kind of rabid cult following—but, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised considering the kind of fan subculture Burton's other films have generated in the realm of pop culture. So with this amount of fandom in attendance, I, naturally, expected this stage musical version to be just as off-kilter as its cinematic origin.

So does it? Well, for the most part, this rowdy 2019 Broadway musical stage adaptation—featuring a book by Scott Brown and Anthony King and songs by Eddie Perfect—is, indeed, a worthy thematic match to the original. Actually, the musical is even more lively and irreverent than its source material... to the point, one can argue, that this over-the-top, chaotic, and wildly unhinged reimagining amps up the kooky-ness a thousand-fold… with even more sight gags, even more extra weird characterizations, and an even more bawdy, wacky lead character that now cusses and harasses with unabashed R-rated abandon. Is this a show for kids? Well, actually, they will certainly find his child-like naughtiness kind of fun, even if parents will shudder as he drops so many F-bombs that'll make even the cast of JERSEY BOYS blush.

Some of it—particularly its use of clever pop culture references, pun-heavy toilet jokes, wow-inducing visual theatrics, and mostly funny meta-humor—do work, while the rest of it feels a bit like a purposely-overwhelming use of sensory overload to keep attention-deficient audiences entertained.

Personally, I did find a lot of it quite funny and slightly intriguing, but a lot of its sophomoric humor and  immature gags are probably aimed at a much different demographic than myself, which perhaps explains why parts of the audience were yukking it up in certain moments much more than I did. But, then again, the scattered laughter is also probably because it's an unfortunate result of this constant Segerstrom Center problem that still pervades… its sound system.

My friend and I once again wondered aloud… are we the only ones not hearing everything? Per usual, the microphone sounds of touring musicals playing in this large cavernous hall (particularly from important lead characters) are greatly muffled—as if mounds of pillows have been duct-taped to every single speaker in the hall—rendering many of the lyrics and dialogue irritatingly inaudible (I'm not sure how many more of these reviews will mention this  technical gaffe because this clearly doesn't concern their audio engineers and I should probably just keep grabbing some audio assistance headphones for the foreseeable future).

How do I know it's not just isolated to my own hearing? Because as many audience members closer to the stage are laughing at something that is said or sung, someone behind me whispers, "wait… what did she say?" over and over again. So, whew, it's not just me and my friend. I feel like the Center just needs to always double or triple boost the volume of the mics on the actors just as a proactive measure at this point even if it seems like it’s okay during the audience-less run-throughs.

The existence of this acoustics discrepancy, of course, is where a show as, well, showy, like BEETLEJUICE—where the sets designed by David Korins, the lighting design by Kenneth Posner, the wild costumes designed by William Ivey Long, and the super cool projection designs by Peter Nigrini—relies heavily on its visual wow factor to lull audiences into constant, stunned interest. As a lively stage adaptation, everything the audience sees is just incredibly innovative and extraordinary in this show. Not only does the stage musical uphold the Tim Burton tone and aesthetic from top to bottom, it even matches the movements, looks, and mannerisms one would expect to see in the directors' oeuvre.

For all its enhancements and additions, BEETLEJUICE - THE MUSICAL retains the core narrative that was established in the original film's playfully absurd screenplay written by Michael McDowell and Larry Wilson, but then deviates here and there for the musical version with consequential details.

A significant difference between the film and the stage adaptation (besides the use of original music, of course) is the more prominent presence of the sarcastic title character right from the start, who speaks and cracks jokes directly to the audience and welcomes them to the show and to the enjoyable concept of the "whole being dead thing," which leads to the introduction of the main living humans he's targeting to help carry out his devious scheme.

In a remarkable, over-the-top performance that can only be mildly described as wild, flashy, and wackadoo outrageous, scary-good Justin Collette plays Beetlejuice with a definitive raspy voice and cheeky comic timing. Portrayed as a charismatic yet depraved and morally-ambiguous trickster, Beetlejuice serves as both a catalyst for delightful chaos and as a funhouse mirror for the other characters' internal struggles. Collette is certainly well-suited to take the striped reins from both Michael Keaton and Alex Brightman, respectively.

Much of the story is set in the fictional town of Winter River, where we find a quirky and recently deceased married couple, Barbara and Adam Maitland (the adorable Megan McGinnis and Will Burton), who—after being accidentally electrocuted to death—find themselves trapped in their home as ghosts. They were longing to start a family, but those dreams are now seemingly dashed thanks to their untimely passing.

Sometime during their "stay" their house gets sold to real estate developer Charles Deetz (Jesse Sharp), who moves in with his morose, goth-dressed teenage daughter Lydia (an impressive Isabella Esler) with the hopes of building an exclusive community surrounding this starter house. Lydia—still struggling with feelings of isolation and displacement caused by the recent death of her mother—gets constant unwanted advice from a hired "life coach," Delia (the hilarious Sarah Litzsinger), who, unbeknownst to Lydia, is secretly having a torrid affair with her dad, Charles!

Desperate to rid themselves of the Deetz family, the Maitlands reluctantly seek the help of the mischievous and eccentric "bio-exorcist" Beetlejuice, who in turn gives up on them because the couple just isn't train-able enough to adequately haunt the family. The couple try on their own anyway, only to discover that teen goth Lydia can somehow see them! They all mutually learn that Lydia wants to leave just as much as the Maitlands want them out.

But, as usual, Lydia's inattentive dad dismisses her daughter's tale, but instead discovers that her dad and Delia are engaged!

Feeling hopeless, Lydia wanders to the roof with serious, dangerous intentions, only to meet Beetlejuice himself, who is elated to learn about Lydia's ghost-seeing skills. He hatches up a new plan but is foiled once more when Lydia decides to work with the Maitlands in scaring their Dad and his visiting guests instead.

At a dinner party (the infamous scene lifted directly from the film, complete with the use of Harry Belafonte's "Day O (The Banana Boat Song)," Lydia's and the Maitland's haunting spell goes awry—with hilarious, feverishly chaotic consequences—forcing Lydia to turn to Beetlejuice for help out of desperation.

As expected, things take a darker turn when Beetlejuice's true intentions are revealed, the Maitlands confront their own fears and uncertainties about the afterlife, and Lydia and Charles are forced to confront their demons and their own fractured relationship.

Filled with catchy musical numbers, inventive staging, and plenty of crass, yet approachable humor, BEETLEJUICE—within its outlandish chaos and unhinged machinations—does manage to explore (lightly) themes of death, acceptance, and the malleable definition of what makes a family. It's certainly a wild and imaginative joyride that admirably captures the vibe of the beloved film while adding its own twists and surprises—but, yeah, with mixed results.

While I appreciate how far this reimagining is willing to go to become as crazy as possible using wacky musical numbers and irreverent humor, the show can, at times, seem like a loud, obnoxious convoluted hodge-podge of goofy-scary tropes and extra crazy antics merely for the sake of having extra crazy antics. There are plenty of abrupt tonal shifts, too, particularly in the second act, where the narrative veers between dark comedy and heartfelt emotion without much of a sensical throughput to bridge the two. And, perhaps, in a bid to make the musical a bit different from the iconic movie, Beetlejuice's machinations in the story here deviates from the film quite significantly in the hopes of also adding some gravitas to Lydia's emotional journey of self-discovery, but it sort of feels half-baked and incidental, even as we're laughing at all the gags we're seeing.

But at its core, the musical does maintain the essence of Tim Burton's darkly comedic original vision while also trying to expand upon the characters and narrative in interesting, well-intentioned ways. One of the more interesting aspects of the musical lies in its further exploration of the concept of death and the afterlife. Through the adorkable Maitlands—who find themselves navigating the complexities of the afterlife after their untimely demise—the musical does raise thought-provoking questions about the nature of existence and what lies in the great beyond (Is it like hell? Or a bureaucratic, DMV-like queue of endless red tape?). The Maitlands' journey from confusion and denial to acceptance and understanding also serves as a reminder of the very-human experience of mortality.

Review: Wildly Over-the-top BEETLEJUICE - THE MUSICAL Spooks Laughs at OC's Segerstrom Center
BEETLEJUICE National Tour Cast. Photo by ©Matthew Murphy.

Additionally, BEETLEJUICE - THE MUSICAL offers a layered portrayal of self-discovery. Lydia undergoes an even deeper journey here versus the film, as she grapples with her own sense of identity and belonging in the face of a tragic, heartbreaking loss. Through her interactions with the Maitlands and, yes, even Beetlejuice, Lydia learns to embrace her uniqueness and find strength in her individuality, even if others might find her odd and off-kilter—certainly a good lesson to evoke in such divided, other-ing times.

The cast, of course, are outstanding, even if it's unfortunately, at times, hard to decipher what the heck they are saying/singing (I think we mostly get the gist of it, but I'm wondering how much more of these funny bits of dialogue or clever lyrics we were missing out on). Collette and Esler are perfectly suited for their respective lead roles, and the charming duo of McGinnis and Burton make their characters easily endearing and worthy of our empathy. Litzsinger's line readings are pretty great, as is scene-stealing ham Kris Roberts who plays not only the shrill-sounding Maxine Dean (wife to Brian Vaughn's Maxie Dean) in the dinner party scene, but also, later, Juno, the Netherworld official trying to keep things on the up-and-up for newly-arrived dead souls. Also worth noting is Abe Goldfarb's melodramatic Otho who gets a memorable moment in Act 2 as Delia's mentor and guru—who is apparently an expert at ghost-trapping. And Jackera Davis' random role as a Girl Scout that opens Act 2 with a heart condition, who somehow makes the brief appearance a gloriously funny one.

A mostly energetic if chaotic show, BEETLEJUICE—directed by Alex Timbers and features choreography by Connor Gallagher—is a fun reimagining on a beloved cult classic, weaving together serious themes of death and self-actualization with cheeky musical numbers and irreverent humor. While it may not be totally flawless, the musical's visual execution makes it a still-entertaining theatrical experience, especially for those seeking more (literal) bang for their buck.

I do wish I had the wherewithal to listen to the cast album beforehand to prep me for the lyrics I wasn't going to be hearing well during the performance, but… oh well. Lesson learned! Lesson learned! Lesson learned!

* Follow this reviewer on Twitter-X / Instagram / Threads: @cre8iveMLQ *


Photos by © Matthew Murphy, courtesy of Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

Performances of BEETLEJUICE - THE MUSICAL continues at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, CA through April 28, 2024. Tickets can be purchased online at, by phone at 714-556-2787 or in person at the SCFTA box office (open daily at 10 am). Segerstrom Center for the Arts is located at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa. For tickets or more information, visit

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy


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