It’s showtime in Chicago for a musical version of Beetlejuice

Sun. November 12, 2023 12:00 AM
by Jerry Nunn

Beetlejuice is a musical currently touring the country in 2023 and was inspired by the 1988 film. This show is clearly made to cultivate the older nostalgic fans who enjoyed it during the original run from that time period, but younger viewers, over the age of 13 as suggested, can catch up by watching the cinematic hit or just come in fresh. The language is cruder than in the film and Beetlejuice is clearly pansexual in this version. There are jokes about gay Republicans and cocaine with some possible ad-libbing along the way.

The story starts off slow at a graveyard surrounding the death of Emily Deetz. This sets up the loud and proud entrance for a specter named Betelgeuse who then introduces a doomed couple named Adam and Barbara Maitland. After their sudden death, the mischievous Beetle has the duo haunt the Deetz family in their new home. To everyone's surprise, the young daughter Lydia isn't scared of death after losing her mother. Unfortunately, she unwittingly unleashes the demon by saying his name three times and there's hell to pay until he can be contained again.

Starting with the positives, the costumes, sets and gimmicks are eye-popping and worth every penny.

Tim Burton clearly chose camp for the film version and kept the majority of the characters on that playing field, except for the Maitland ghosts. In the musical version Lydia and her father Charles Deetz are portrayed realistically which gives the audience more people to relate to as opposed to the film version.

Sammy Davis, Jr. was a first choice for the title character by Tim Burton. Robin Williams, Bill Murray, Jack Nicholson and Tim Curry were among the legion of performers considered for the part. Justin Collette does a fine job in portraying him, but it is Isabella Esler who does the heavy lifting. She grounds Lydia in places the eighties film didn't dare tackle with sadness and a strong story conveying the death of her mother. Winona Ryder has given up on goth and is riding high on Stranger Things these days.

The second act starts with several showstoppers but is long in the tooth not knowing how to rest in peace by the end. “Barbara 2.0” is an unnecessary song and should be cut to fix a time crunch along with a few other bits and pieces that need lobbing off.

The producers should know that many fans are there to hear two songs “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jump in the Line (Shake, Señora).” They will wade through two and a half hours of an excursion in the process. Beetlejuice isn't bad feels long at times when it should feel lighter to embrace the ghosts of the past presented by the quirkier characters. There are a few standout songs of particular notice that are lyrically well written like “Girl Scout” and “That Beautiful Sound” for people to discover. That is when this musical sparkles and shines to make it worth seeking out.

Watch out Barbie, folks are showing up dressed for the part so look for all types of homages including drag at intermission.

The popularity of this project was underestimated for the Chicago market and only runs until November 19, 2023, but audiences have a second chance next year as Beetlejuice is returning to the Windy City at a different location on May 21-26, 2024 at the James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 West Randolph Street. Seek out more information at