By Kimberly Rau
Beetlejuice is a show about death, in case you didn’t know. If you didn’t know, don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler. The titular character oozes onto the stage about 30 seconds in, breaks the fourth wall, and tells you, kicking off two and a half hours of chaos in the form of a ghost story.
We start off at a funeral for the mother of teenage Lydia. In a misguided attempt to move on from that, Lydia’s father quickly moves her and his girlfriend/Lydia’s life coach into a run-down Victorian house. The house is empty because a young couple has just accidentally electrocuted themselves, and are now inhabiting the attic as ghosts. This is all part of green-haired Beetlejuice’s plan to get a living person to say his name three times so he can start wreaking havoc on the world of the living, instead of being constrained to harassing his fellow dead.
For her part, Lydia just wants to get rid of Delia, the perky life coach who wants her boyfriend’s daughter to be just a little less weird. And if her besotted father won’t get out of the way (he won’t), that’s going to be his problem, not Lydia’s. So of course when Beetlejuice eventually turns up and offers to ruin her father’s life for her, Lydia is all about it. But things are never what they seem, and a wild ride of possession, bait and switches, haunted houses and a trip to the underworld ensures before things are set right again.
If you’ve seen the 1980s movie by the same name, expect some departures from the film’s canon, but a brilliant harnessing of the Tim Burton film’s energy. Book writers Scott Brown and Anthony King fill the show with plenty of jokes, but also add in some tender moments to ground the plot. Eddie Perfect gives us catchy, funny music and lyrics. And of course, there’s a giant sand worm. What more could you ask for?
How about a spectacular cast? Isabella Esler is a powerfully voiced, wonderfully dark-humored Lydia, who brings the house down during all of her musical numbers. Justin Collette plays Beetlejuice, the gross and brash but somehow incredibly charismatic source of all of the musical’s mayhem. Collette could not be better in his role.
Wacky Delia and Otho, Delia’s life coach, are absolutely the goofiest people in the show, and that’s saying something. The two characters are over the top, entirely un-self-aware, and whoever plays them have to be pros at physical comedy. Kate Marilley and Abe Goldfarb are both exceptional in all aspects.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum are the boring-as-toast recently deceased Maitlands, who are forced to find their backbones and stand up to Beetlejuice when they lose their lives. Britney Coleman as Barbara Maitland and Matthew Michael Janisse who played her husband, Adam, on press night, are a well-matched and well-cast pair.
The show is packed with fun musical numbers, set against a funky set that is beautifully lit. Some of the most iconic moments from the film (Day-o, anyone?) only get better with live theater, and brought the house down.
This is not a show for young children (and children under the age of 6 are not allowed) unless you’re okay with them hearing the f-word dropped fairly liberally for a musical. There are also quite a few sex jokes, some of which are blatant enough that they likely won’t go over many kids’ heads. Then again, if we’re talking middle schoolers, they probably hear worse at school. There’s also a heavy strobe lighting effect that happens more than once, which could be a concern for some. But for everyone else, as long as you’re fine with a high level of irreverence and goofiness, this show is going to knock your socks off. I highly suggest you go.
“Beetlejuice” runs through April 29 at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St., Providence. Tickets may be obtained at the box office, online at ppacri.org or by calling 401.421.2787. Masks are optional. Children under 6 not permitted.